Tut, tut. Just when women's tennis—the sport, not the tabloid parade of abusive fathers, violence and lost youth—verged on becoming interesting again, yet another episode pulled it back into the realm of the bizarre. Mary Pierce, whose run to the 1994 French Open final seemed to cement her independence from her intrusive and often abusive dad, abruptly withdrew from Wimbledon two days before the tournament, giving no other cause than the elliptical "reasons far beyond my control."
For a sport woefully lacking in star power, it was a bad turn. The uncertain status of absent divas Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati has left the game to the relentless Steffi Graf, who spent the last year threshing through the field of usual suspects with boring ease. Then came Pierce on June 1, beating Graf 6-2, 6-2 in the semis at Roland Garros. The women's side of Wimbledon suddenly held out a promise of drama, and we haven't had that since Seles was attacked in April 1993.
Now, with the eighth-ranked Pierce gone, we still don't. And at first glance it appears that two old bogeymen—her father and the demon media—are to blame. In the week leading up to Wimbledon, the Fleet Street brigade made clear that tennis's new star would be its prime target during the fortnight. There were pictures of Mary posing in tight clothing, and one article began, "She likes nothing better than wandering around the house naked." Some papers reported that Jim Pierce planned to disguise himself to circumvent the ban on his attending Mary's matches. Then there was the more menacing two-day spread on Father Dearest in The Sun, with Jim growling, "My daughter owes everything to me, and I want her back." Rumor had it that The Sun planned to pay Jim's expenses to go to England and begin Mary's nightmare all over again.
London's tabs can be as inaccurate as they are randy, of course, and Jim refuses to speak on the matter unless he is paid. The threat of such a circus would make any 19-year-old reconsider playing. But it's not quite that simple. A spokesperson for the All England Club confirmed that fear of Jim was not the only cause for Mary's withdrawal, saying, "It's a variety of reasons, including her father's behavior, the media, the fact that she's been under a lot of pressure generally."
And then there is this: Pierce is a weak player on grass, and she has never played Wimbledon. Even after her confidence-boosting run in Paris, where she lost to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, she voiced uncertainty about playing on such a fast surface. She tried to dip her toe in by playing a 21-and-under tournament last week at Eastbourne—and promptly had it bitten off. A 15-year-old Czech named Ludmila Varmuzova, ranked 638th in the world, stunned Pierce 6-4, 6-4.
"It's a combination of a lot of things," said tennis great Billie Jean King of Pierce's withdrawal, "and not being comfortable on grass is one of them."
And not being comfortable as the daughter of Jim is another.
Following an afternoon parade through the streets of Baltimore on Oct. 23, Pope John Paul II will say a mass at Camden Yards. An altar will be erected in centerfield, and the pontiff will prepare for the mass in the bullpen.
It will no doubt be a save situation.
A Sporting Step
Yes, there is something a little quaint and impractical about the Ohio Valley Conference's recent adoption of a wide-reaching sportsmanship policy. However, in an era when everyone complains about bad sportsmanship but no one docs anything about it, Ohio Valley commissioner Dan Beebe is to be congratulated for taking steps toward modifying the sometimes egregious behavior of athletes, coaches, officials, public-address announcers and fans during sporting events.
"We want to dispel the notion that it's appropriate to create a hostile environment for athletic contests," says Beebe. "We want to get back to the idea that sports are for fun and recreation."
Beebe is sickened by the poor sportsmanship that has overtaken athletics. "People's behavior can be changed," says Beebe. "institutions such as the ones in our conference, which are supposed to be teaching values, should be the leaders."
According to the Ohio Valley's new policy, which goes into effect this fall, after the coaches and captains receive a pre-game reminder about acting in a sportsmanlike manner, there will be no further warnings. That means infractions (yardage penalties or technical fouls, for example) will be assessed immediately for, as the policy says, "negative statements or actions, including taunting or baiting." Moreover, a coach who protests an unsportsmanlike call will be ejected at once.
The policy charges coaches to take the lead in reviving good sportsmanship because they "have the greatest amount of influence over whether the young people in their programs are taught and follow the high principles of sportsmanship." The policy urges coaches to take every opportunity "when addressing the media, booster groups or other public forums to express the desire for fans to support their team at home contests but not to abuse the visiting team."
Beebe says that the policy's provision for fan behavior, which warns that spectators may be expelled for "abusing the opposition and officials" and encourages fans to "applaud the effort by both institutions, even while supporting their own," has drawn the most criticism. "People want to know if we're going to march into the stands and toss people out if they boo," says Beebe. "Of course not. But we want to start changing the atmosphere of athletic contests. And we want that to come from the athletes and coaches themselves. When the participants start acting differently, the fans will follow. It's time to do something. This is a start."
It's a start other conferences—and maybe the entire NCAA—should follow.
Sportsmanship of a sort was in evidence among the student body at the University of California, Davis, recently. Like every other school in the UC system, Davis has been hurt by four consecutive years of draconian cutbacks stemming from the state's budget crisis. With funding from the state to the university reduced to about $3.3 million for the 1993-94 school year (about 65% of the 1990-91 level) and with additional cuts of $2.3 million planned over the next three years, Davis was facing the elimination of as many as 15 of its 20 intercollegiate teams by 1996-97. The ax was already poised to fall next year on men's golf, men's swimming, men's water polo and wrestling. Regrettably, that would have put Davis in step with the trend of universities' discarding minor sports to help balance their budgets.
But in this case the students took matters into their own hands, voting in April, for the second time in a year, to raise student fees to offset the projected budget cuts for sports. Given three options—a 23-sport program, a 17-sport program or no program—the students approved the first by a 52% majority. The measure provides that the fee approved last year—a $34 quarterly assessment—will be continued indefinitely and will double by '96-97. Also, three women's sports, yet to be determined, will be elevated from club to varsity status.
While applauding the students' action, however, one wonders about its impact. Given an ultimatum, how many student bodies will choose to support athletics the way the students did at Davis, whose football, baseball, softball, women's gymnastics and women's volleyball teams all finished in the top 10 in Division II this year? If past is prelude, it will not be the name sports that get eliminated; rather, it will be sports like gymnastics, swimming and wrestling.
The challenges for the administration of new NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey are many. But none is bigger than preserving and protecting nonrevenue sports from cut-and-slash administrators trying to find easy solutions to complex problems. That, too, is a form of sportsmanship.
Poor Enzo Scifo, who is a midfielder for Belgium and the son of Italian parents. His surname is pronounced "SHE-foe" in Italian. During Belgium's World Cup game against Morocco on Sunday, however, ESPN announcers called him "SKI-foe," which, in Italian, means "disgusting."
No one is sure why Mary decided not to play Wimbledon, but the evidence points to her father.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
During the Los Angeles Dodgers' eighth annual Think Blue week recently, selected fans got to live out their Dodger dreams, including being members of the Fantasy Grounds Crew.
They Said It
The strangely coiffured crooner, on the advantages of being a celebrity: "You get to meet important people from all walks of life—from Joe DiMaggio to Barry Bonds."
A Square Game
With St. Basil's Cathedral in the background, Arvidas Sabonis, once the mainstay of the Soviet national team, blocks a shot by former NBA star Dan Roundfield. A team from the U.S., representing the National Basketball Retired Players Association, took on a team largely made up of players from the U.S.S.R.'s 1988 gold-medal-winning Olympic team last week in what is believed to be the first basketball game ever played in Red Square. More than 30,000 spectators watched the game, won 94-78 by the Russian stars, which was dedicated to the Allied victory over Germany in World War II. Among the players on the Retired team, coached by Oscar Robertson and Dave DeBusschere, were Adrian Dantley, Walter Davis, Cedric Maxwell, Trent Tucker and Darrell Walker. The team is also scheduled to play games in Europe and China to raise money for NBA old-timers.