abusive parents and cash cows in women’s tennis

Another female tennis player has been abused by her father/manager. The Los Angeles Times reports that Semen Linetskiy, the father of Evgenia Linetskaya, 18, was arrested on August 5 during the Acura Classic Tournament on suspicion of battery. Linetskaya is a Russian player currently ranked number forty-four on the WTA Tour.

Linetskaya suffered a cut on the back of her head that required stitches and bruises on her mouth. A cut on the back of her head. How do you get that unless someone hits you with a weapon or at least an object used as a weapon? If you get pushed backwards and fall, usually you get a bad bump. If you were pushed hard enough, then your head might split open. This was not a quick, regrettable slap to the face, this was a beating.

We’ve been here before. The fathers of Mary Pierce and Jelena Dokic have been banned from tournaments for abusive behavior towards their daughters.

The women’s tour is different than the men’s tour. Men and women start playing junior tournaments at the same age but women mature on the pro tour earlier. The youngest female player to reach number one was Martina Hingis at age sixteen. Lleyton Hewitt was the youngest male at age twenty.

Tracy Austin was only fourteen years old when she won her first tour event. Amazingly enough, she didn’t even play the French Open when she was ranked number one because she had to go to class in the public school she attended. The idea of a top ranked tour player going to a public school today is preposterous let alone skipping a grand slam. No chance. Never happen. Players are dragged from their homelands to Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy or Rick Macci’s academy in Florida and their lives are structured around tennis, not a public school schedule, from that day forward.

The transition from teenager to adult is difficult enough even if you are not a touring professional paying most of your family’s bills.

The families of these players dedicate their lives to developing champion tennis players who also happen to be lucrative sources of income. There are teenage WTA players who are the main financial providers for their families.

If you’ve ever gone through a divorce or sat through the reading of a will, you know how explosive the issue of family and money can be. A loving relationship of many years can harden into a financial dispute when an ex-wife or husband is faced with the prospect of diminished income. We may have said goodbye to the love but saying goodbye to the money can sometimes be harder. The police report on the arrest of Linetskaya’s father says that the argument between father and daughter started with the subject of tournament prize money.

The WTA has a responsibility to protect and educate these young players. NBA rookies are required to attend seminars covering everything from avoiding gold diggers to money management. The WTA should hold required seminars at least once or twice a year for new tour members that should include counseling and resources to deal with abuse.

The transition from teenager to adult is difficult enough even if you are not a touring professional paying most of your family’s bills. The tour needs to structure a level of separation between player and parent to make this transition easier and protect younger players. One way to do this is to put the player’s earnings into a trust administered by a third party until the player comes of age and can administer it herself. Money for expenses and training and a set percentage for the parent/manager can be taken out of the trust. The administrator of the trust could act as a very valuable outside buffer to protect young players from overly controlling and sometimes abusive parents.

The parents are not the only ones profiting from these underage cash cows. These players are the income generating product of the WTA. Ten of the top sixty players are eighteen or younger. The WTA needs to take steps to protect them else they risk looking like accomplices to the abusive parents they ban from tournaments.