Mike Penner, sportswriter for 23 years at the Los Angeles Times, came out this week as a transsexual. Mike will now become Christine. I started as a female and I still identify as female but I can honestly say that figuring out exactly which version of female has been like trying to catch a slithery fish in a murky pond. It would be nice if we didn’t have to choose between the polar ends of the male/female spectrum, but given that it’s our only choice at the moment, I applaud Christine for her bravery.
Roger Federer is transitioning too though not in the same arena. In the past few weeks he’s taken a more active political roll on the ATP tour and now he’s been photographed by Annie Leibovitz – surely the ultimate sign that one has transcended their individual discipline – in a profile appearing in this month’s Men’s Vogue.
There are currently two controversies in the ATP world and Federer was in the thick of both of them at the recent Masters events in Monte Carlo. The first concerns Davis Cup. The ITF, which runs Davis Cup, has been unresponsive to the players’ request to schedule the Davis Cup ties the week after slams. The second concerns the broad sweep of changes suggested by ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers. He wants to eliminate one Masters Series clay court event, downgrade another, and change the ranking points structure.
Francesco Ricci Bitti, the president of the ITF, flew to Monte Carlo and asked to meet with Federer. De Villiers also flew in and met with Federer, and three other players. After the meeting Federer said, “We’ve gone from Mark Miles [former ATP CEO] doing nothing to Etienne doing too much.”
Don’t expect the players to set up a separate players’ union just yet and don’t expect Federer to morph into a political activist any time soon. It’s not in Federer’s interest to fight for Monte Carlo – it’s on clay and clay is his weakest surface – and he doesn’t play much Davis Cup.
According to the Men’s Vogue article, Federer has turned to Tiger Woods for a rivalry because he can’t find one on the tennis court. Well, hard courts anyway, Rafael Nadal is clearly superior on clay. Federer and Woods have become fast friends. If Federer follows Tiger’s example, we’ve probably seen the limit of his political activism.
Tiger is known for sidestepping controversy whenever possible. He had a chance to chastise Augusta, site of the PGA Masters, because it still does not accept women as members. Instead, as is often the case, Tiger said something that ended up being nothing. Yes, he believed women should be members but Augusta is a private club so it can make its own rules.
It’s not fair to expect Federer to be the greatest player of all time and Billie Jean King all rolled into one so we’ll settle for transcending the sport. The Men’s Vogue profile officially propels Federer beyond the sport and into the celebrity mediasphere and that’s a great help for tennis. Federer has fashioned himself, literally, into a suave man of the world complete with a charity in South Africa and a home base in the Middle East emirate of Dubai.
Dubai is a curious choice for the Swiss Federer. Instead of ancient mountain villages where new Swiss chalets look exactly like old Swiss chalets, Federer lives near a marina that is still under constructions in a glass and steel city where new archipelagos pop up as fast as they can fill in the sand. Las Vegas has hotel versions of New York, Venice and Paris but Dubai will have an archipelago shaped like a map of the world.
Maybe that’s the perfect place for a person undergoing transition.