Sunday, September 20, 2009

USTA is having a terrible, horrible, very bad day

I almost feel badly for the USTA. Yes I know that that sounds unbelievable given my own relatively frequent tirades against their incompetence. But the last thing I would have wanted the organization that represents tennis to face was an allegation of racism. That is an ugly accusation. It’s the kind of accusation that even when you win, as Zina Garrison apparently has, everyone loses, including Garrison herself.

An important component of Garrison’s case that has been ignored by most news reports, is her allegation that a top USTA official made racist comments about the William sisters, complaining to Ms. Garrison that "you people" never return calls. Ouch. Someone should have lost her job the next day.

Most reports on the lawsuit have focused instead on Garrison’s complaint about not receiving the same salary as Patrick McEnroe for doing a similar job. He managed the men’s Davis Cup and she managed the women’s Fed Cup. And apparently he got paid significantly more. When last I checked, a woman receiving less money for doing the same job as a man is called sexism. But Garrison elected to bring race into it.

I can’t exactly fault her for this because I did the same thing when discussing Serena’s mad woman verbal unleash against a lineswoman. I felt at the time -- and I still feel now -- that race may have played a role in the lineswoman’s reaction to Serena. I did not think that Serena represented a genuine threat to this woman. I felt that she was deeply tense and frustrated and was expressing these emotions over being unfairly foot faulted at a critical point of the match. But the way that lineswoman went scampering to the Chair, it was clear that the Serena she was seeing may have been a big black behemoth about to kill her.

So I can’t fault Garrison for her own interpretation of the way she was treated by the USTA. And since we will probably never be privy to the details of the settlement she managed to score, it may be impossible to determine where sexism began and racism ended.

But I think that it is fair to say that Patrick McEnroe did more for Davis Cup than Zina Garrison ever did for Fed Cup. McEnroe inherited a situation in which most of the top American players were refusing to play Davis Cup. Against accusations of nepotism because he inherited the job from his mercurial older brother, McEnroe adopted a completely different strategy and style. Where John had tried to court Sampras and Agassi, Patrick went after the newbies and built a successful team from scratch.

I don’t know what Zina Garrison’s strategy was for building Fed Cup. I do know that Patrick McEnroe had a level of media savvy that she simply did not ever seem to master. She never seemed to get that courting the media is a necessary survival strategy in the world of professional sports.

Finally, Garrison alleged that she was unfairly dismissed by the USTA after being hired in 2004. After several losses, in 2007 the USTA hired Mary Joe Fernandez as a co-coach. Put yourself in Garrison’s situation and imagine how disrespected you would feel if the company you work for went out and hired someone to help you do your job. And imagine that they also offered your alternate a much better contract. Kinda stings huh?

Long before the USTA dismissed her in 2008, Zina Garrison had become a lame duck coach, a completely ineffective manager who had been supplanted and undermined by another. It was a passive-aggressive and humiliating slap in the face. And Garrison apparently felt that the slap across her black face was being made by a white hand.

And she may be right. But complicating the picture is the fact that Mary Joe Fernandez was actually born in the Dominican Republic. She is not a white woman, when last I checked. But in the USA, a dark-skinned Latina from the Caribbean has a much better chance of passing for White than a Black woman from inner city Houston.


Kim said...

Thanks for this post - its making me think quite a bit about both Zina Garrison's situation and the whole Serena blow-up. I'm sure its difficult being a woman in pro tennis - being a black woman must be a whole other ball game. Also - I like your blog's new look!

tennischick said...

Thank you Kim. And thanks for the compliment on the new look. It was a lot of work but so worth it! Who knew I could master the art of working with html! :-)