Category Archives: Culture

Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer

Put rebroadcast schedule in here.

The question is: is what you do more important than who you are? A related question: is it more important seek active social change in the world or can you be just as effective if you choose to be a secluded monk in the Greek countryside? The answer to the second question is easier. If your personality is best suited to being a cloistered monk, you’d probably make a terrible social activist. You are most effective if you choose the path that suits your soul. And many a burnout comes from the pursuit of activism out of a sense of duty rather than conviction.

The thing is, Billie Jean could have had it both ways. She had influenced huge social change and she then had a chance to square her personal life, her sexual preference, with her social activism. She chose to go, no jump back into the closet. It may well have been because she wanted to continue her social activism but I think she also didn’t want to give up her celebrity.

Make no mistake about it, the Battle of the Sexes, Billie Jean’s tennis match with Bobby Riggs, was spectacle at its finest. It’s hard to forget the site of Billie Jean entering the match on a (??? how best to describe it) and giving Riggs, the quintessential public representative of macho, a baby pig. Billie Jean was a star. She’s made it all the way from a working class Long Beach to center stage and did not want to give that up.

You could say that Billie Jean chose celebrity and fame at the price of leading a lie in her personals life. The argument for that is that she affected a lot of people’s lives positively while being cruel to her husband, who is only one person.

The Bobby Riggs match was spectacle, and we like spectacle. We celebrate celebrities – people who make spectacle and are famous for one thing or another. We don’t celebrate a mand or a woman who pay their bills, have a good relationship with their family and lead an uneventful life.

It could be similar to being the child of a famous figure who is renowned in the world but might be a terribly family person. I’m sure we could find a number of celebrities who would fit that mold. I am the daughter of a famous person and I have immensely mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the fact that he was a consummate artist has inspired me greatly, on the other, he did not come and claim me but left me to be a foster child and then adopted by another family. He always provided financial support but it’s hard not to think that celebrity informed his choice, may have made it harder to be seen as having a daughter out of wedlock. (write a note to J. Druck about this – e.g., about being in la with a feed, “I’m so naive, aren’t I?”)

There are two intesting things in the HBO documentary titled Billie Jean King, Portrait of a Pioneer. Let’s start with the camera.

You might have noticed that Billie Jean looks straight at the camera as she speaks. If you didn’t, at least you experienced a feeling of intimacy missing in most documentaries. That’s because the producer, Margaret Grossi, used the interrotron, a technique developed by the brilliant filmmaker Errol Morris, to interview her subjects. Instead of looking off to the side of the camera at her interviewer, in this case Mary Carillo, Billie Jean looked at an image of Carillo’s face on a camera in front of her while Carillo was in another room.

With Billie Jean looking directly at you, it feels like she’s sitting down and having a conversation with you, the lowly, anonymous viewer. It’s kind of thrilling, I have to say.

Billie Jean has spoken about her life before but this is the first time she and her partner, Ilana Koss, have been willing to discuss their life together publicly. Billie Jean was ready to discuss the uncomfortable parts of her life, but sitting in a room by herself and looking at a camera instead of sitting a few feet away from a live person whose emotional and physical reactions might have inhibited her, made it that much easier. In a New York Times interview, Carillo said that she was visibly moved by Billie Jean’s revelations. You see the same thing in Morris’ films Mr. Death and The Fog of War. The subjects of those documentaries, Fred Leuchter and Robert McNamara, seem to be having a long coversation with themselves, the most intimate convesation there is, and you just happen to be watching.

The other interesting part of the documentary is the nature of the relationship between Billie Jean and her then husband Larry King as it played out against the social upheaval of the sixties and seventies. They married in 1965 while they were still in college but by the end of the sixties, Billie Jean knew that she was attracted to women.

The fifties and sixties were a phenomenally active time for social change. In 1963 alone, James Meredith was the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, the first salvo in the current environmental movement, and Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, credited with starting the feminist movement.

Billie Jean had a strong sense of social inequality as a young girl and it must have energized her immensely to see footage of marches and demonstrations and hear speeches from such leaders such as Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Gloria Steinem. Further complicating matters was that her husband was the feminist in the family. He was the one who pointed out to her that men had better tennis facilities than women and he was the one who sent her name to Steinem’s MS Magazine to put on a list of prominent women who admitted to having an abortion.

Billie Jean was in a real bind. Here she was the key figure in starting the first women’s tennis tour, Virginia Slims, and agitating for equal pay for women on in the slams, pushing for Title IX that forbids discrimination against women in any school that receives federal funds, and starting World Team Tennis, a version of tennis closer to her sensisiblity of cooperation and fan involvement, and she preferred women.

If she had come out as a lesbian, it not only meant she’d have to leave her husband and fellow activist, but it would greatly impair her effectiveness as a leader in social change. Her lesbianism would be the subject, not the things she wanted to change. Here she was married to someone who shared her vision

As it was, she finally had no choice in the matter. In the early seventies, she began a relationship with Marilyn Barnett. Barnett traveled with Billie Jean and in the HBO documentary, Chris Evert recounts a tournament where Larry King and Barnett both sat in the players’ box. Evert wondered how Billie Jean managed to stay married under the circumstances. Barnett brought a palimony suit against her in 1981 and the jig was up. Billie Jean lost her endorsements and suffered a lot of grief from the gay movement because she said that she regretted the affair. She later explained that she meant that she regretted the affair because she believed in monogamy but the gay community knew that her relationships with Barnett had lasted seven years, not exactly what you’d call an affair, and that Billie jumped even further into the back of the closet after the Barnett court case.

It would be hard to argue about the way Billie Jean handled her sexuality(yuck). She appeared on television with Larry’s arm around her and she also said that she and Larry were considering adoption in a last gasp attempt to repair the damage done by Barnett. That was the cruel behavior of a desperate person.

It was probably too much to ask her to be a lighting rod for the feminist movement, the women’s tour and the gay and lesbian movement. She made a decision that changing the world is more important than being honest about her sexual preference. Many people would argue that who you are is more important than what you do. That her duplicity and subterfuge about her personal relationships undermined her role as a champion for women.

Early in the HBO documentary she says, “A champion has GOT to say to themselves, I want the ball, no matter what, and be willing to be at high risk. You just gotta do it.” After Margaret Court lost to Bobby Riggs in the first battle of the sexes, that same attitude led Billie Jean to know immediately that she had to take Riggs on and beat him. It was critical to the work she was doing with the women’s tour and women’s sports.

That match was the symbolic victory

She was the prime mover in starting the first women’s tennis tour, the Virginia Slims, she was a key figure in agitating for the passage of Title IX, legislation that provided equal sports opportunities for women college students and forbids discrmination in any area at a school that received federal funds, she and Larry founded World Team Tennis, … She might not have been as effective if she had been out and now that our culture is less discriminatory against lesbians, she can talk about her experience openly.

It’s unfortunate, though, that for all the progress we’ve made, our definition of relationships hasn’t changed more. I have lived in relationships that were not based on sexual attraction. We lived together because we enjoyed each other’s company, learned from each other and respected each other. I was living with a former boyfriend as I went through the process of finding out that I was attracted to women. I eventually went to live a woman in New York but that former boyfriend is still one of my closest friends in the world. And I later lived with two women on and off for thirteen years in a very creative and enjoyable situation. Compare it to Simone De Beauvoire(sp?) and Jean Paul Sartre – a marriage of the minds.

[at end of article, “Oh yeah, Bi… Bud Collings Billie Jean King is the best player….]

[interesting to note that B.J. won two million dollars in her career, with 2o Wimbledon titles, 12 grand slam titles and 67 singles titles. That was a long time ago, of course, but Kim Clijsters won more than that at last year’s US Open after adding the bonus for winning the US Open Series. Clijsters should have donated 10% of it to the Women’s Sports Foundation (?), she owes it to Billie Jean.]

NY Times article, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/sports/tennis/25sandomir.html: ” But the impact of written words is different from that of videotaped recollections, especially in the way the documentary’s producer, Margaret Grossi, set up the interviews. She was inspired by Errol Morris, who, in “The Fog of War, ” did not speak face-to-face about the Vietnam War with Robert McNamara, the former defense secretary.
http://tennis.mostvaluablenetwork.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=417
Rather, McNamara spoke to Morris’s image on a monitor just below the camera. Similarly, Carillo sat behind a curtain, asking her questions, while King spoke to Carillo’s televised face.

The effect is to create a more intimate, one-on-one connection with the viewer. “I thought we’d be O.K. because Billie’s looking straight at us, telling us this and it is coming right from her mouth, ” said Grossi, who spent 13 years lobbying her bosses at HBO to make the King film.”

http://www.markorton.com/in_brief/Interrotron.htm, intervew with Morris about the interrotron. He uses this technique so the interviewee speaks to the camera. During the interview, the face on the camera in the interviewer, Mary Carillo in the Billie Jean doc, but when it is broadcast, the person being interviewed is looking right at the camera so it seems more intimate. I read some time time ago that Morris said that people sometimes feel freer to talk if they’re looking at a camera. It’s less inhibiting than if someone is sitting there in the room with you looking at you. You can read about the interrotron here: http://www.markorton.com/in_brief/Interrotron.htm

Announcer at Wimbledon 2005: “As player, promoter and innovator (a catchall term used in lieu of actually detailing everything she’s done from Team Tennis to the women’s tour itself), she’s done more to advanced the cause of women’s sports than any man or woman before or since.”

Number of wimbledon titles.

She could have been talking about Bobby Riggs: “A champion has GOT to say to themselves, I want the ball, no matter what, and be willing to be at high risk.” Risk of homophobia, risk of misogyny, …. “You just gotta do it.”

First I have give full disclosure. Billie Jean King is the greatest tennis player ever. Bud Collins, Russian doc, who’s the best player of all time? answer.

I’m tellin’ ya, I’m just in love with her. Her enthusiasm is moving to me.

She knew early on that she wanted to make the world a better place, given that she was a girl in the 50’s, that “unless I was number one, ” I wouldn’t be listened to. Compare that today with the young player who is at dinner with an IMG representative when they’re 10 or 12 years old. Compare that with young players who suffer abuse at the hands of pushy, exploitative parents who are paying ?? thousands of dollars a year for their child to attend a tennis academy.

First title, doubles, at age 17. Her partner, Karen Hantze Susman.

1966 Wimbledon final against Maria Bueno, she won it and became number one in the world. Larry King said that tennis at the time was “an activity you did until you got a real job.”

Is the documentary a good documentary: it’s pretty traditional in the visual cues it uses. Conversataion about burning bras, image of women burning bras.

Wimbledon 1968 finally went open, started playing open tennis, paying the winners, giving them prize money. Until then, players were paid under the table.

In the sixties and early seventies she also realized that she was interested in women, she was married to Larry King by now.
She couldn’t bring herself to accept her homosexuality, particularly in the homophobic atmosphere of the sixties and seventies and women’s open tennis was taking off. What was more important. Helping women get appropriate prize money or her own personal tumult. Billie Jean King, Nancy Richey and Rosie Casals approached Gladys Heldman, publisher(?) of the magazine World Tennis, about having a women’s tour. Nine players started the tour at the risk of being locked out of the USTA (tennis assoc.-the tennis assoc. at the time) tournaments, including Wimbledon, if they started their own tour.

The Virginia Slims Tour, had its start.

She’s gracious. “Chris Evert is the best thing that’s ever happened to women’s tennis.”

1971 US Open final (on grass) – Chris versus Billie Jean. Still, Billie Jean knew that if she lost to Chrissie, the Virginia Slims Tour might fail. Of course, she won. Two years later, Chrissie, who had not been on the tour, joined the tour.

Her husband, Larry King, entered her name on the list in MS magazine of women admitting that they’d had an abortion. Mr. King, always the feminist. She had an abortion because she knew she didn’t want to stay married to Larry King. Feminism = “equal opportunities for boys and girls”

Title 9: The idea of the legislation is that whatever the men get, the women get, sports and everything else. She was out as a feminist beyond the world of tennis.

How many Wimbledon and other titles total?

1972 Billie Jean King and John Wooden were sportswoman and sportsman of the year. First time for a woman. This was around the time she met Marilyn Barnett and had an affair. Barnett started traveling with her on tour. Even Chris Evert, who knew about Barnett, as everyone did, wondered how she and Larry managed to stay married to each other. Larry was either the epitome of the feminist we’d all love to be married to or in great denial. Though I have to say that I have been in relationships like that and was living with my boyfriend, who kind of wasn’t my boyfriend any more, when I started to date women. We were just together.

When the men created the ATP, it was originally a union for the players. They didn’t, of course, invite the women, so you know that Billie Jean spearheaded a women’s union and the WTA was born. If you don’t get it by now, The Virginia Slims Tour, Title 9, the WTA, well, how about Team Tennis?

1973 Wimbledon Final, going for her fifth straight. Billie Jean won singles, mixed doubles and women’s doubles. Also, that year, she played Bobby Riggs. $100, 000 winner take all.

In the documentary, Anna…. Bud Collins is asked who is the best player of all time. “No question, ”(?) he says, “Billie Jean King.” He speaks the truth. If you want to know why, watch the documentary, Billie Jean King, …Pioneer. The rebroadcast schedule is below.

The documentary is pretty straightforward stuff. Then Billie Jean mentions women burning bras, of course we see an image of
..there isn’t anything here we didn’t know before. The difference is that Billie Jean is willing to sit down and talk about what she was going through, including her difficulty in dealing with being a lesbian. One thing is slightly different about this doc. The filmmakers (???), use the technique pioneered by [links]Errol Morris in his documentaries. He calls it an interrotron. Instead of….

Billie Jean, then, is looking at a camera with the face of her interviewer, Mary Carillo. Carillo is not in the room. This has two effects. The first is that you get the sense that Billie Jean is talking to you, Mary Carillo becomes our stand-in. The second is that people are sometimes more comfortable talking when no one is in the room. It seems to give them the freedom to talk on beyond what they might if someone is sitting there in front of them in the room.

Chris Evert is very entertaining. She says that she was such an idiot in those days. She looks at the camera and say, “I’ve changed, ” and we believe it.

When you see her lift up the trophy after beating Bobby Riggs, you remember her opening comment. “A champion has to step up…..” After everything she’s done, and I told you, I’m a complete Billie lover, this is what I most respect about her. In an era where Michael Jordan refuses to say anything that will offend an endorser and Tiger Woods takes only the tiniest step when he could be very influential about the women’s issue at Augusta, Michael and Tiger stepped up when they had to on the court and on the course, but Billie Jean stepped up on and off the court.

Women’s Sports Foundation, did Billie Jean found this? “change attitude towards girls and women in sports.” Elton John appears in a suit with a flower embroidered on it and the fattest, most opulent cross I think I’ve ever seen. If you think that Billie Jean is staid behind those glasses, check out the footage of her shaking her butt and bouncing up and down on Elton John’s piano in the middle of one of his concerts. She performed as a backup singer for Elton John. Priceless.

Then there was World Team Tennis. Men and women’s results counted equally and it was city versus city, like other major sports on the US.

!978 doubles final with Navratilova was her 20th Wimbledon title, a record, and Navratilova was happy to help someone who’d paved the way for her.

In 1979?? Marily Barnett outed Billie Jean King, King hadn’t seen her since 1973, what was the point. This is the one area where Billie wasn’t forthcoming. She called Larry her lover and husband. The footage of Billie Jean looking lovingly at Larry King though she knew long before that she didn’t want to be married to him and also the fact that she suggested that (not in the doc) they were going to adopt, was completely misleading.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 224 user reviews.

I remember going to a Branford Marsalis concert in Miami one evening when he was in his hip-hop period. The band’s sound check morphed into a riff then turned into a full out improv when the rapper for the band burst onto the stage and cried out, “You know I gotta get in on this!” then proceeded to put words to the music.

Bud Selig has hired George Mitchell to look into steroid use in baseball just as Barry Bonds is set to break Babe Ruth’s career home run total and everyone is up in arms. African-Americans consider the timing to be racist, old-time baseball people consider it scape-goating and others are afraid the investigation won’t go far enough.

Is the timing of the Mitchell investigation racist? No doubt.

And you know I gotta get in on this. I talked about Bonds’ troubles before but it’s too complex and fascinating to leave alone.

Is the timing of the Mitchell investigation racist? No doubt. Babe Ruth is a larger than life icon and usually the favorite answer to the question: “Who is the most beloved baseball player of all time?” It’s bad enough that Bonds is a jerk but he’s also an outspoken black man and we don’t like that. We’d much rather idolize Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods who’ve never said a controversial thing in their lives.

But, as is often the case, there is more to it. Bonds already has the record for home runs in a season, it’s too late to do anything about that. But what if Selig lets Bonds break Ruth’s career home run record knowing that he probably used steroids?

The deeper problem is the fallout from the long-term collusion between players, management and baseball officials. If you stick your head in the sand for too long, when you finally do take action, you seldom penalize the appropriate culprits. Selig is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If Selig punishes Bonds and not Giambi or McGwire, he’s being racist. If he doesn’t punish Bonds, that’s the defining moment in his career. He didn’t take action when he should have.

If Major League Baseball really wants to move on and handle the future in a much better manner than it handled the past, it should replace Selig. As long as he keeps his job, baseball will do the same thing it’s been doing for his entire eighteen-year reign, wait the problem out and try to wish it away until forced to take action.

It’s too late to penalize McGwire and it’s probably too late to penalize Bonds. Give him a thirty game suspension for lying to a grand jury then watch as the players’ union contests the suspension and a mediator reduces it to twenty games. Bonds will break Ruth’s record and retire at the end of the season.

Hopefully, Selig will go with him.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 208 user reviews.

As of today, tennis has something is desperately needs: a rivalry. Rafael Nadal, the brash, young beefcake tennis player can now be marketed worldwide as a legitimate contender for Roger Federer’s crown. Nadal beat Federer to win the Dubai Duty Free tournament, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in a match that lived up to the hype. If Nadal can stay injury free, tennis could actually become popular again. As for beefcake, the awards ceremony had to be haulted due to the crowd uproar as Nadal changed his shirt.

So what’s the controversy?

The problem is Dubai. It’s all over the news and now tennis writers are joining in. Both Peter Bodo from Tennis Magazine and Jon Wertheim from Sports Illustrated have criticized the men and women’s tour for pandering to Dubai’s desire to be the Las Vegas of the middle east.

Should tennis players be expected to be the political conscious of the U.S. if the same is not required of Major League baseball players?

Bodo is the loudest muckraker in the tennis world. He lays it on Dubai for money laundering, poor treatment of women, refusing to issue passports to Israelis and brokering nuclear arms deals and even then he didn’t make is sound half as bad as it really is. Mike Davis is known for his exposes of Los Angeles: City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear. In his article about Dubai, you can read about the sex slave market and pre-school children sold into slavery to become camel jockeys. Sounds like a sick joke but it’s real. The screams of terror from these young kids, who have been seen on camels owned by the leader of the country, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, known as Sheikh Mo, spur the camels to move faster.

The men’s year-end final is held in Shanghai, China, a country known for its oppressive government and bad human rights record, but the US is not doing so well either. Repugnant torture techniques at Abu Ghraib and forced imprisonment without trial in Guantanamo qualify as egregious breaches of human rights. So why is it alright to play in the U.S.? Should tennis players be expected to be the political conscious of the U.S. if the same is not required of Major League baseball players?

Speaking of Major League Baseball, the World Baseball Cup started this week. The league and the players’ union are the sponsors of the tournament which is part of an attempt to expand baseball’s global marketing presence. Why else hold your own international baseball tournament when the World Baseball Cup already exists?

Just like other globalization issues that affect sports, athletes need to play an active role. After complaints about working conditions in factories where sports clothing is made, athletes toured factories to observe for themselves. If tennis players cash in on $500, 000, the reported amount of Federer’s appearnce fee, to be the entertainment draw for Sheikh Mo’s vision in the desert, it’s fair to ask them to look a little deeper at the country they are working for.

At the very least they should give a wild card to an Israeli player and test Dubai’s visa policy.

Wertheim understandably wonders why Agassi flew all the way to Dubai instead of attending the inaugural ATP event in his home town of Las Vegas, The Tennis Channel Open mentioned above. I would add that next week is the start of one of the biggest tournaments of the year in Indian Wells, a short one hour flight from Las Vegas. Instead, Agassi took a twenty hour flight from Dubai. Can’t be good for his sciatica which has plagued him the last year. His career is winding down and he has a lot of bills to pay so maybe he needs the huge appearance fee.

If all of the top players had entered the Las Vegas tournament, the stands would have been full and there would have been real momentum for next week’s tournament in Indian Wells

Appearance fees contribute to the biggest problem in tennis: the product is diluted. If you go to the Formula 1 racing website and scroll along the top of the page, you roll over each country or continent in the current season. All of the drivers are in the same place at the same time. This week in tennis, you could have attended two matches on hard court on opposite sides of the world or a clay court tournament in Acapulco. If all of the top players had entered the Las Vegas tournament, the stands would have been full and there would have been real momentum for next week’s tournament in Indian Wells

Wertheim suggests that some tournaments take place every other year instead of yearly. A good suggestion if the ATP has the nerve to implement it.

As for the match between Nadal and Federer, it was a doozy. Bjorn Borg came out for the coin toss. No doubt he got an appearance fee too. Borg is auctioning off equipment from his grand slam wins because he needs the money. As he watched the match, he slumped in his chair with a look on his face that said, “Has it come to this?”

Federer looked unbeatable in the first set, he had 10 winners to Nadal’s 1. On set point, Federer cut a backhand overhead at such a sharp angle that all Nadal could do was send the ball skidding along the ground and into the net. But it wasn’t all Federer’s doing.

Federer attacked, correctly figuring that net play is his main advantage over Nadal. Nadal hit balls short – making it easier for Federer to approach – and tried to pass him cross court unsuccessfully. In the second set, Nadal found his groundstrokes and moved his passing shots down the line. Backed up by Nadal’s high spinners, Federer started to lose his edge. In the eighth game, Federer made two quick errors and was then passed down the line by Nadal. On the next point he came in on a short slice backhand, something he got away with in the first set, and Nadal passed him again to get the break and serve for the set.

We now had just what we all wanted, a third set. Federer must have lost confidence in his strategy because he looked a bit rattled. He sent a volley into the net and hit a forehand approach shot long to give Nadal a break in the first game of the set.

In the fourth game, Federer twice sent a slice backhand return cross court, a difficult maneuver. The second one worked and he had a break point on Nadal. On the next point he tried something much simpler, he pulled Nadal wide then hit a winner down the line.

Why has Nadal beaten Federer three out of the four times they’ve played? Because his will is stronger.

Three games later he had a game point on his serve and Nadal threw everything he had at him. He started out with a deep topsin return, hit a backhand down the line followed by one crosscourt, threw in a slice backhand then a forehand down the line and, finally, a forehand approach. By the time he was halfway to the net, Federer hit a gorgeous backhand passing shot then shook his racket at Nadal. “Look here, kiddo, there’s a reason I’ve won 56 straight hard court matches.”

It looked like Federer was getting ready to go on one of his late match runs. But he wasn’t. He sent an approach shot long that could have put Nadal down 0-30 on his serve. Then, serving to get to 5-5, he made three forehand errors, the last to give Nadal the break and the opportunity to serve for the match.

How could this happen? Where was Federer’s vaunted ability to rise to the occasion, to turn it on when it most counted? Federer is one of those sure things in life. Unless he was hobbled, you could count on him to wait for his opportunity and take advantage of it when it arrived but here he was making easy errors.

Nadal served out the set and now stands 3-1 again Federer. At the medal ceremony, Federer called his one win against Nadal “lucky.” And it was. Nadal was two points away from winning that match. Why has Nadal beaten Federer three out of the four times they’ve played? Because his will is stronger.

This was a slow hard court surface. Federer will still beat Nadal on a fast hard court and grass but Nadal has the edge on anything slower. How cool is that? Now we get to see if Federer really is the best player of all time.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 155 user reviews.

I was stuck on route 10 last Saturday afternoon flipping channels on the radio when I came across a gravelly voice attached to a man who acted like he’d injected himself with Starbucks Sumatra Extra Gold. Glass was breaking in the background as, he said, people were trying to break into the recording studio. He followed that with a rant about former colleagues who now hated him because he has a lucrative new gig on satellite radio.

Bricks coming through the window, haters, this guy was paranoid. But he was also very entertaining. He sang a hilarious song to the rhythm of a polka that appeared to be completely adlibbed. I was listening to Scott Ferrell on Fox Sports Radio.

Look, if I listen to sports radio my standards can’t be very high, okay, but the fact that Ferrell can make extremely transparent sexual references and repeatedly refer to lesbians as wannabe men without any fallout is very disheartening.

Next I heard audio of two players grunting during a tennis match that I recognized from the match between Andy Roddick and Andrei Pavel in their Davis Cup match the day before. How sick is that, I now watch so much tennis now that I can identify grunts. This was the introduction to a mock interview with Amelie Mauresmo. The use of men grunting instead of women was part of the plan. Mauresmo is a muscular, broad-shouldered lesbian. Of course that makes her a man.

The interview starts with Ferrell strolling into the locker room where, by the way, no press is allowed. After he enters, Mauresmo asks him to look under her skirt to find the titanium racket that is strapped to her leg. She then goes on to say that she wants to squeeze Ferrell’s balls, his Penn balls, and accuses Justine Henin-Hardenne of quitting “like all my lovers, they quit because of my hairy back, ” referring to Henin-Hardenne’s retirement during the Australian Open and yet more reasons why lesbians either are or want to be men.

It will come to no surprise to you that Ferrell has a regular gig on Howard 101, Howard Stern’s satellite radio show. I have no problem with Howard Stern, he can do whatever he likes and I don’t have to listen to him. I even have a friend who is appearing on his show in the near future. She just released a new book about her life as a professional submissive. You can read about it here. Clearly I’m no prude.

But I have a big problem with ignorance and insulting stereotyping.

You can see why Mauresmo doesn’t encourage questions about being a lesbian and you can see why no active male athlete in a major sport has come out of the closet. I can imagine that there are many more stupid comments about strap-ons in everything from, well, a Howard Stern show to instant messages between adolescent males who are afraid of lesbians because they’re having enough problems as it is getting a date considering their acne and dorky looks and lesbians certainly will not want to go out with them.

Look, if I listen to sports radio my standards can’t be very high, okay, but the fact that Ferrell can make extremely transparent sexual references and repeatedly refer to lesbians as wannabe men without any fallout is very disheartening. Rather than getting into trouble, he’s been rewarded with a regular appearance on satellite radio.

Ignorant comments about lesbians in general are stupid, the same comments about a particular individual, especially one who has carried herself so professionally throughout her career, are totally unacceptable. But I don’t hold out much hope. If Fox doesn’t want Ferrell, Howard Stern does. So we have a two-tiered system: the FCC will continue to censor broadcasts on AM and FM radio and everyone else can go to hel… I mean, satellite.

Someone recently asked Bud Collins for his choice of the best tennis player of all time. He didn’t hesitate: Billie Jean King. Nobody did more for tennis. She spearheaded the women’s tennis tour and thereby did more for women’s sports than anyone else. She beat Bobby Riggs in an event that was a seminal moment in the women’s liberation movement. And she was, unwillingly, the first professional athlete to come out of the closet when Marilyn Barnett slapped her with a palimony suit.

Take one look at Scott Ferrell’s comments above and imagine what kind of psychic grief Billie Jean had to endure as the face of the feminist movement and the gay and lesbian movement. Ferrell’s comments might be tame relative to the comments that ignorance about feminists and lesbians in the 70’s must have produced. Even Arthur Ashe, the bastion of civility, told Billie Jean that no one wanted to watch women play tennis. Still, she won twelve grand slam singles titles and thirty-nine total grand slam titles.

I’d like to think that things have improved since Billie Jean was on the tour. Certainly gays and lesbians have made huge strides in acceptance, they are now allowed to marry in a few selected places.

It’s unfortunate that Ferrell hasn’t been keeping up.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 235 user reviews.

Robert Shenkkan’s new play, Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates, begins with Lewis and Clark’s travels through the Louisiana Purchase, a parcel of land acquired in 1803 under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson that doubled the size of the United States. Jefferson was fond of referring to his young country as an “empire of liberty, ” a contradictory term mixing imperialism and democracy. When Lewis and Clark encountered tribes in the new land, they informed them that they now had a “Great White Father in the East.”

In Shenkann’s version, the trip takes a few unexpected twists and turns. After their first wrong turn, Lewis and Clark end up at San Juan Hill in Cuba fighting with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish American War somewhere around 1898. Another wrong turn places them in the Philippines. After the end of the Spanish American War, Spain sold the Philippines to the US for $20, 000, 000, at least the Louisiana Purchase was cheaper at $15, 000, 000. After a third time-warp wrong turn, Lewis and Clark are in Vietnam and, finally, they make it to the Euphrates River in Iraq where they unwittingly become the source of bad intelligence that provides evidence of weapons of mass destruction thereby giving the U.S. its excuse to invade Iraq.

What starts out as a trip to announce the arrival of democracy to unsuspecting citizens in the Louisiana Purchase, ends with a role in the exportation of democracy to Iraq. The term “empire of liberty” could just as well have come straight from the mouth of George W. Bush.

After the Spanish American War, the U.S. occupied Cuba until it managed to get its independence four years later. When Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista forty-five years ago and established a Communist state, Cuba became a pariah in the U.S. Batista was a friend of the U.S government; a dictator is acceptable as long as he is not a Communist. The U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1962.

And now you know why Cuba cannot play in the first edition of the World Baseball Classic to be held in March 2006.

Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association are the organizers of the sixteen-team tournament that will be played in Japan and the U.S. While it might be nice to think that they organized the tournament to make up for the calling their championship the World Series despite the fact that the world is not invited, the real reason has more to do with expanding Major League Baseball’s global market.

The U.S. Treasury Department has told the organizers that Cuba can’t play in the tournament because the embargo forbids Cuba from earning money in the U.S. This has parallels to the embargo of South Africa during apartheid with one important difference – the U.S. is the only country enforcing the embargo. The United Nations has repeatedly asked the U.S. to end it.

The Cuban baseball team did play a home and away series against the Baltimore Orioles in 1999. The Orioles got around the embargo by donating all proceeds to sports programs in both countries. Last July, Cuba qualified for the Concacaf Gold Cup, a soccer tournament, and played games in Seattle and Foxborough, so it’s possible that a compromise can be reached.

The World Baseball Classic is a good idea, it could grow into an event similar to the World Cup soccer tournament and heaven knows the U.S. could do with some positive P.R. at the moment. Instead, they are punishing a tiny neighboring country that is so crazy about baseball that it has won the last nine Baseball World Cups, an event organized by the International Baseball Federation, a group based in Switzerland under whose rules the World Baseball Classic will be played. Which brings up the question: why is the MLB organizing a new international baseball competition when one already exists?

Last Friday, Jim Rome interviewed David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, on his radio show. When Rome asked Stern if there was something he wanted to do beyond basketball, Stern replied: “to demonstrate that sports has the potential that has been little used in terms of being a force for good on a global basis, … if I had my druthers, we would improve our business then be able to improve what we do about using that business in a much more socially effective way.”

Stern is being a bit shortsighted here. The Olympics have been an important force for good relations on a global level for a long time and traveling exhibitions of sports teams have been instrumental in improving relations between countries much as cultural exchanges have been helpful.

He also doesn’t say exactly how he would carry this idea out but he might want to place a call to a high government official who is a former part owner of the Texas Rangers and spell it out.

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