DECEMBER 13, 1994, SPORTS
Copyright 1994 /THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Eloquence Belongs to No One
Why can’t a woman be more like a man. — Prof. Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’
Prof. ’Enry ’Iggins should have hung around a while. Women race cars, ride thoroughbreds, make putts, serve aces, play point guard, hit home runs, go into space, direct movies, run corporations, even run countries nowadays.
They not only play sports, they write them. They go into battle, sit in the Senate, make our laws, judge them and set our policy. Santa Claus might turn out to be a woman next.
One of the secrets of the sports world for a long time was that women were often the biggest and most dedicated group of fans in any sport. Baseball put ‘Ladies Day’ into the scene early in the game and those of us on the sports desk who checked our daily mail were well aware women made up the bulk of the readership some days.
It was women, really, who first embraced pro basketball and it was nothing to see fully half the spectators courtside at the Forum female. Doris Day and Dyan Cannon were Hollywood representatives at games long before Jack Nicholson and Billy Crystal.
It wasn’t long before they wanted to do more than watch and cheer. They wanted to comment, advise, second-guess, be a part of the sports scene. It wasn’t long before women were as familiar a sight circulating in a sports locker room as trainers.
They had first cracked the barrier of sports journalism giving the “woman’s angle.” Turned out the woman’s angle on a home run or an end run or an Olympic run wasn’t significantly different.
A home run was a home run, a goal was a goal, and, of course, an adverb was an adverb. Also, a “No comment!” or a “Get out of my face!” knew no sex.
There were some contretemps. Some athletes had as much trouble with gender equality as some editors. Some lawyers had to find court rulings that were conspicuously sexless but, of course, lawyers have no trouble finding what suits them or their clients.
So, it’s altogether appropriate that a colleague, Ron Rapoport of the Daily News, should see fit to collect and publish an anthology of sportswriting by women and show the craft is in good hands.
Ron’s collection is not “You’ve come a long way, baby.” It doesn’t treat the subject as Barbie Doll journalism. He notes that Mary Garber, who was to sportswriting what Amelia Earhart was to aviation, once presented several articles at a seminar of sports editors and asked them to identify the authors by sex. No one could.
The book is called ‘A Kind of Grace’ and it offers a compilation of 73 pieces from the women’s side of sports viewing. It is good stuff. For example:
On Page 223, Joan Ryan of the San Francisco Examiner begins her piece, “Nine years before Mary Bacon put a bullet in her head at a Motel 6 in Ft. Worth, Tex., she had already begun to die.”
Runyon ever say it better? John Lardner?
On Page 104, Claire Smith of the New York Times is holding forth: “Steve Palermo and Dr. Lonise Bias would not seem to have a lot in common, one being a major league umpire (shot and paralyzed by an armed robber), the second being a doctor of religion.
“Bias has also suffered grievous wounds in her life, having lost two sons, one to a drug overdose, one to murderous gunplay. Len Bias, Bias’ talented basketball player son, died of a drug overdose on the eve of a professional career with the Boston Celtics.
“She speaks to athletes, most recently to major league rookies who gathered in Dallas last weekend. ‘You have a responsibility on this earth. Will you cause other young men to be a curse upon this earth or will you cause them to be a blessing? For, you see, good advice with poor example is very confusing. You are educators whether you want to be or not. You will influence the decision of someone sitting at the table with you or someone who will be sitting in a ballpark looking at you. Either you will lead them to a life of prosperity or one of death and destruction.’ ”
Who needs Dickens?
Take another Joan Ryan piece on page 332 on the other side of the Super Bowl:
“Wendy Kusuma walked last Sunday afternoon through downtown San Francisco, which was quiet and nearly empty. So many people were home watching the 49ers-Dallas Cowboys game. ‘I had this feeling of dread: Before the night’s over we’ll have more battered women in either Dallas or San Francisco,’ she said.
“Football Sundays are heavy workdays for battered women’s shelters. A woman is battered by a husband or lover every 15 seconds of every day. One-third to one-half of all female murder victims die at the hands of spouses or lovers.
“Next week’s Super Bowl Sunday would be the worst day of the year for battered women. It usually is. A wife or girlfriend steps in front of the television. She doesn’t fetch his beer quickly enough. She can’t keep the children quiet. She contradicts him in front of his friends. Anything can trigger the beating. But it’s usually the beer, the betting, the bruising and banging of players on TV that lead the way. The athletes on screen — men often admired to the point of reverence — reaffirm the batterer’s belief of what it takes to be a man: aggressive, dominant, physical.”
On Page 114, Michelle Kaufman of the Detroit Free Press zeroes in on a familiar figure. “Her father bought her a .22 rifle when she was in kindergarten and chopped off the stock so it would fit her tiny hands. Her mother has been married seven times. A drunk half-brother once tried to kiss her; she retaliated by burning him in the neck with a curling iron. Twice in the past two years, she filed for divorce and sought restraining orders against her hot-headed husband. Three months ago, police seized a handgun from her after it went off during an argument.
“Less than a month before the Winter Olympics, Tonya Harding faces the toughest chapter of her tough life.
“Harding’s background contradicts every image associated with figure skating. The new U.S. champion enjoys drag racing, rebuilding engines, playing pool, hunting, fishing. She smokes cigarettes, despite a serious asthmatic condition. While other skaters choose classical music, Harding has skated to such tunes as ‘Wild Thing’ and ‘Funky Cold Medina’ and her skating dresses are a far cry from designer beauties.”
OK. How’s that for who, what, when, where and why, the journalist’s fab five?
On Page 360, Helene Elliott of The Times takes the high road: “When he was a rookie, and other players mocked his devout Christianity, and his decision to abstain from sex until marriage, A.C. Green’s steadfast faith helped him silence his doubters. ‘One thing about me is, I don’t feel I have many limitations. I feel I can really do anything. The Bible tells me — and I really believe the Bible — Philippians 4:13 says, ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,’ and this Scripture I take to heart.’
“Green runs a summer camp for children and someday he’d like to establish a home for unwed mothers. ‘There has to be more emphasis put on self-control and responsibility. If there’s so much sex education going on in school, why are teen-age birth rates and abortion rates on the increase? There’s a lot of things that weigh on my heart.’ ”
Well, was Dr. Bob Schuller more eloquent at the Crystal Cathedral?
A powerful argument for gender equity is this book. Of course, these women never hit a major league home run, scored a touchdown in the NFL, served aces at Wimbledon or high-sticked Wayne Gretzky. Come to think of it, neither did we.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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