Tennys Court

As a fan, I have been following the Australian Open (AO) tennis championships, which feature both women and men players. That seems to mean I’m old.

According to a 2016 study of sports leagues, the average age of the ATP’s television audience is 61, fourth highest of all major sports. The WTA fares better; its average viewer age was 55, and the age of its audience decreased between 2006 and 2016.

I actually prefer watching the WTA, but I’m still older than the demographic they want.

After some lean decades, the AO moved from the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to Flinders Park (now called Melbourne Park)  and has blossomed into equal standing with Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. Its main stadiums are named Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and Margaret Court Arena.

In the weeks leading up to the AO, there was a lot of media chatter about players boycotting, or even renaming Court Arena. Though a fantastic player, with 24 major titles to her name, Margaret Smith Court was a traditional woman, who only toured when she wasn’t being a dutiful wife and mother. Though she had played and lost badly to Bobby Riggs in the Mother’s Day Massacre  – the precursor to the Battle of the Sexes – Court was reportedly lukewarm towards Billie Jean King’s efforts to start a more egalitarian women’s tour. After her tennis career, she converted from Catholicism to evangelical Pentecostalism, eventually becoming pastor of her own ministry, where she espoused conservative Christian values … and attacked gay rights, as she told the West Australian in Perth:

“Politically correct education has masterfully escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take,”

“The fact that the homosexual cry is, ‘We can’t help it, as we were born this way,’ as the cause behind their own personal choice is cause for concern,”

I believe that Court is entitled to her beliefs, and as an evangelical, to preach them, but I also believe that she had to expect a great deal of criticism in return from a sport with outspoken lesbian heroes like Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, to name only two.

But as the tournament progressed, the controversy over Court Arena faded. LGBT supporters wore rainbow colors on their clothing while playing, but no one refused to play their scheduled matches on Court. Upsets and scintillating matches took over the headlines. Two lower-ranked male players, Hyeon Chung and Tennys Sandgren made unexpected runs into the quarterfinals. Chung is a talented South Korean who recently won the ATP Next Generation exhibition in Milan. Nextgen featured eight young players who are only starting to make a mark in the tour. Tennys Sandgren wasn’t one of them, but his name had garnered occasional attention among writers looking for easy headlines, and he seemed to be an affable fellow, and he was an American from Tennessee.

At the AO, Sandgren vaulted from near-obscurity in defeating journeyman Jeremy Chardy, 2014 champ Stan Wawrinka, fellow newbie Maximilian Marterer and world #5 and genuine contender Dominic Thiem. These were his first four wins in the main draw of any major tournament. But he found himself under the scrutiny of the media, and twitterverse callouts of his tweets that had been ignored before suddenly became worth a second look.

Sandgren, it turned out, had been following the tweets of Tommy Robinson, Nicholas Fuentes and had retweeted articles by Jordan Peterson. Tommy Robinson is a pseudonym for Stephen Christopher Yaxley, a political activist who led the English Defence League, founded the European Defence League, worked in the British Freedom Party, a think tank called Quilliam and a UK offshoot of the German anti-Islamist group Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes). Robinson had been moving away from the more violent groups, but remained opposed to the introduction of Islamic culture. Nicholas Fuentes is not the Peruvian footballer, he is a white supremacist student from Boston University who has been quoted saying, “Multiculturalism is cancer.” He left BU after receiving threats due to his participation in the Charlottesville white supremacy rally.

I can hardly fault Sandgren for retweeting Jordan Peterson. Around the middle of last year, my browsing habits led Google to suggest videos of Petersen speaking with Camille Paglia and other intellectuals, and he sounded fairly reasonable. I looked for more information, and found that he was a psychologist interested in religion and ideology, and had become famous, or infamous, for refusing to use transgender pronouns at his school, the University of Toronto. Many reasonable people reject the more extreme political rhetoric, but it seems that Peterson also espouses a strictly binary view of sexuality in which men are men and women are women. Not unlike Margaret Court. Still he’s a lot more palatable than, say, Ben Shapiro, who recites alt-light talking points as fast as possible and calls it debate.

But Sandgren had also retweeted so-called Pizzagate conspiracy rants, and some insults directed towards black folk in general and Serena Williams in particular. He responded to social media attacks by deleting his tweets, which only made him look guilty of something. After defeating Thiem, Sandgren botched the post-match interview by reading a prepared statement attacking the media’s right to question anything he had done on social media, and proclaiming: “It’s my job to continue on this journey with the goal of becoming the best me I can and to embody the love Christ has for me, for I answer to Him and Him alone.” Yeah, that was going to work.

As his match with Chung began, Serena tweeted simply, “Turns channel.”

Soon after losing to Chung, Sandgren tweeted a sincere-sounding statement rejecting alt-right beliefs. Some folk bought it, but I found his statement politically-correct and unconvincing. I suspect that Sandgren still leans alt-light, but is now afraid to express what he really feels – which is a shame. Even though I disagree, I would rather hear what people really think than hear carefully-constructed pablum. In a similar vein, Glenn Greenwald tweeted that while he in no way endorsed Sandgren’s tweets, he did regret that a young person had no space to make mistakes.

I posted before about the unfortunate near-riot when Charles Murray attempted to debate professor Allison Stanger at Middlebury College. As predicted, the Resistance and the MeToo movement have brought about an inevitable backlash. In New York Magazine, self-described Oakeshott-conservative Andrew Sullivan claims even the LGBT movement has lost focus:

The movement is now rhetorically as much about race and gender as it is about sexual orientation (“intersectionality”), prefers alternatives to marriage to marriage equality, sees white men as “problematic,” masculinity as toxic, gender as fluid, and race as fundamental. They have no desire to seem “virtually normal”; they are contemptuous of “respectability politics” — which means most politics outside the left. Above all, they have advocated transgenderism, an ideology that goes far beyond recognizing the dignity and humanity and civil equality of trans people into a critique of gender, masculinity, femininity, and heterosexuality. “Live and let live” became: “If you don’t believe gender is nonbinary, you’re a bigot.” I would be shocked if this sudden lurch in the message didn’t in some way negatively affect some straight people’s views of gays.

While I realize that Sullivan is not entirely wrong here, his POV is very insular. He, a gay conservative, got what he wanted out of the LGBT movement, and that should be good enough for everyone.

The refusal to consider other viewpoints, or to even listen to anyone that disagrees has become a pathology in our culture. It is the key first step in dehumanization of the other. A fellow, Umair Haque posted on Medium that he believes our very culture is severely ill:

American collapse is much more severe than we suppose it is. We are underestimating its magnitude, not overestimating it. American intellectuals, media, and thought doesn’t put any of its problems in global or historical perspective — but when they are seen that way, America’s problems are revealed to be not just the everyday nuisances of a declining nation, but something more like a body suddenly attacked by unimagined diseases.

Seen accurately. American collapse is a catastrophe of human possibility without modern parallel . And because the mess that America has made of itself, then, is so especially unique, so singular, so perversely special — the treatment will have to be novel, too. The uniqueness of these social pathologies tell us that American collapse is not like a reversion to any mean, or the downswing of a trend. It is something outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics. It is like the meteor that hit the dinosaurs: an outlier beyond outliers, an event at the extreme of the extremes. That is why our narratives, frames, and theories cannot really capture it — much less explain it. We need a whole new language — and a new way of seeing — to even begin to make sense of it.

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