Thursday, April 19, 2018

Therapy with TWA: When You End Up Rooting Against Americans

I've been sitting on this post for a bit, because I wasn't sure how to say what I wanted to say, or even if it needed to be said. But I just read Jon Wertheim's latest tennis column (and you should, too), and it's time to hit the therapy couch.
American Tennys Sandgren had another good run in Houston last week, and naturally, I didn't watch one second of it. I tracked the final online, hoping desperately that he would lose, and he did, in three sets. I'm sure it was a good match. I'm sure I'll never be watching a match featuring Sandgren unless he's getting his butt kicked by Rafa Nadal or something. Some people would call this "petty" or tell me it's "time to move on." We'll get to that in a second.
This all started a few months ago, when Sandgren's social media account was combed and some things came out in the wash. Pizza-gate. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Probably some light racism (or at least a helping of Serena Williams hateration). Disgusting. And when fans began calling him out on Twitter for it, there was John Isner, asking everyone what the big deal was. This is, yes, the same Isner who called out Colin Kaepernick for protesting racial injustice in America by kneeling during a song that has a racist verse in it. But. Sandgren and Isner are fine tennis players -- among the best that America has to offer right now. And social media? That's off-court. That's life. And tennis is tennis. You can pull apart the player from the person. Right? Right?!?
Right. I guess. It's not as if I live in a bubble. Heck, I'm in Florida and I play tennis with people who voted for the current Cheeto-in-Chief. (Sorry. Nah. Can't use his name here, but bigs up to Luvvie Ajaye who has allllll the nicknames.) Did I ever mention that I got invited to a post-election party by a MAGA-head and when I told him later I had to miss his party because I was at the Women's March, he told me I had wasted my time? Anyway, I've played with people who talk politics on the changeover. And because we are way past the times of politely declining to give voice to my disagreement, we disagree. Then we we get back on the court and keep playing. No problem.
So why is it so hard for the people I actually do not know? I've been wondering about this myself for a while, ever since the Sandgren affair. This weekend, I finally figured it out. It's because of what they represent -- that's what's getting under my skin. These players represent America, and I live in America. And they don't represent me. And what they believe and support is so much more than "other-side-of-the-aisle" disagreement. There is considerable circumstantial evidence that President Dolt is a racist. (And if you can use circumstantial evidence to send someone to prison for murder, than I can posit why majority-black countries are the shitholes, but not Sweden.) And these players support that. And I am supposed to support them? I am supposed to watch only what they do on court. Tennis fans -- well, we're off the court. And many of us, especially fans of color, are busy spending our off-court time being horrified by the choices that their guy makes daily.
Really, what this situation needs is a person in a leadership position in tennis who recognizes that tennis fans are more diverse than ever and that this is a situation. But the only people connected to tennis who have been firm about Sandgren's transgressions are Serena Williams and Wertheim. And Wertheim is just a columnist. That person who will step up in a leadership capacity is apparently not Katrina Adams, the black female president of the USTA. Shortly after Sandgren's run in Australia, she congratulated him on Twitter, and when Tennis Twitter said essentially, HEY YO WHAT THE HELL IS THIS, Adams professed ignorance of what he said, and did not address it when folks showed her. If you are a leader who is watching as the players coming through the USTA are more diverse than ever (as well as the fans), but feel no need to address this -- if your approach is to let it blow over until Sandgren *crosses herself* wins a Slam -- then that's not what we need now. Unless I've missed it, she hasn't even said, "Hey, look, I talked to him. I believe he's sorry and that he wants to start over with fans." Now that would go a long damn way. And yet, even with the long, diverse history of American tennis -- which includes Martina Navratilova, the Williams sisters, Sachia Vickery and other immigrants, children of immigrants, and people of color -- Adams and the USTA has nothing to say.
We need someone who will at least attempt to address this in a nuanced way, as Wertheim did. And he's right. This isn't about politics. It's about ideology that is completely unacceptable. Scrubbing your social media and angrily denouncing the media because it reported facts are ... well, first of all, a little too on the nose.
It's also not really an apology.
Having said all of that, it's not fair for the media to continue to ask Sandgren questions about this -- his answers won't change. If he was sorry, he'd be sorry -- all the way sorry. And he's not going to post about Pizzagate again. So here we are in the gray area with Sandgren, with Isner, with these players whose names appear with tiny little American flags, with fans wanting to support your full Davis Cup roster -- and rooting for Belgium instead.
I hope David Goffin, at least, is on the level.