Today, gentlemen, we were reminded why we lug our reputations as troglodytes well into the 21st century. A woman named Marion Bartoli proved athletic enough to win a singles title at Wimbledon and was thereupon described to BBC Radio 5 listeners as something other than "a looker." Because, you see, it is not enough to leave your guts strewn across the lawn and to not drop a set on the way to winning your first career grand slam event. You must also do so while being compared aesthetically to a 6-foot-2 occasional Sports Illustrated swimsuit model who preceded you in victory at the All England Club.
“Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little 'You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight,'" is what presenter John Inverdale said on-air, which is the sort of thing he might've wanted to take back a minute after he spoke it, but there it is. Women's tennis might be the most highly sexualized of major televised sports, both because of men's affinity for lithe bodies in short tight clothes, and because there have been some certifiable bombshells who used the sport to launch ostensible modeling careers. Maria Sharapova is uncommonly beautiful and uncommonly good at tennis, and when two things that powerful converge, sports media are glad to have you as a sex symbol, if in part as penance for the self-flagellating horndoggery that followed Anna Kournikova in her day. The selfsame SI in 2000 ran a pearl-clutching cover story wondering whether the fair Miss Kournikova was worth all the adulation if she'd never won a singles title, because, as you know, we should arrive at our sports crushes meritoriously, or something. By 2004, when Kournikova (as Sharapova would later) was disrobing for the swimsuit issue, we can only assume SI's editorial stance had softened to a realpolitik whaddayagonnado?
The BBC apologized for its announcer even as he seemed to forget the first law of holes. (That is, if you find yourself in one, stop digging.) Here's what the Telegraph found:
He later tried to make amends by saying: “We poked fun, in a nice way, about how she looks ... but Marion Bartoli is an incredible role model.”
After being asked about Inverdale’s comments a BBC spokesman said last night: “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologise.”
So nice, to be poked fun at. Bartoli's going to have to get used to people saying shitty things — even on this website, where an earlier story we posted about Bartoli winning Wimbledon was immediately greeted by slimeball comments. Inverdale did the common jackasses one better, though. His didn't just poke fun at — nicely! — a woman's appearance before a world audience. He also pinned this hypothetical motivator on her father. There's a history there, as there is with any parent and child, intensified by the whole tennis thing; he guided her from childhood until only recently, when she dropped him as a coach to work instead with Amelie Mauresmo, a former Wimbledon champ. The Telegraph caught up with the father, too, and he was more gracious than most of us would've been had someone chosen the best moment of your daughter's life to needle her on her looks.
Told of Inverdale’s remarks, the new Wimbledon champion’s father, Dr Walter Bartoli, said: "I am not angry. She is my beautiful daughter.
“The relationship between Marion and me has always been unbelievable so I don’t know what this reporter is talking about."
I think what Inverdale is talking about, in fact, is his disappointment in not getting a hard-on watching Bartoli dismantle Sabine Lisicki in the final. She's likely to catch more of this trolling in the future, but it shouldn't define her tennis any more than Kournikova's adulation did. Bartoli should stay scrappy. Keep fighting.
Photo credit: Associated Press