As Wimbledon once again proved, the best women tennis players in the world grunt like stuck pigs when they hit. So what? At least they don’t adjust their testicles or hawk loogies.
Fortunately, major league baseball has had the good sense to accept such colorful behavior—particularly pitchers’ re-arranging their balls—as a folkloric part of the game. (Ever wonder why they call it the mound? Not so for women’s professional tennis.
While acceptable during childbirth or hot sex, women’s grunts apparently have no place within the genteel ranks of tennis. The Women’s Tennis Association, backed by the International Tennis Federation, recently said it wants to outlaw “excessive grunting” during matches.
The plan is for umpires to measure decibel levels by using hand-held “grunt-o-meters.” Too loud, and you’re penalized. No timetable yet, but the current crop of screamers, most notably No. 1 Maria Sharapova and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, would be exempt from any new rules.
The men’s game, which includes such high-volume grunters as Rafael Nadal, has no plans for such restrictions. Shocker.
To many fans, women’s grunting is annoying. To some female pros, it’s seen as cheating, with opponents’ noises a purposeful distraction that hinders shots. Even legendary champion Martina Navratilova says grunts bring “the wrong kind of attention to the game.”
Ladies and gentlemen, get a grip on your rackets. The real issue here is not noise. It’s sexism. Still.
Male athletes can grunt like primates because, well, they’re men. They’re expected to act like guttural cave dwellers. Women athletes, for all their pretensions of equality, are still supposed to be ladylike in word and deed.
One pundit (male, of course) even argues that the grunts of men tennis players are the result of intense exertion over long periods, while women’s utterances are “a superficial, ear-splitting tactic” used to psych out opponents.
Men are primal. Women are superficial. Game, set, match, Tarzan.
Of course, it doesn’t help when women themselves reinforce that notion. For example, Stacey Allaster, WTA’s chief executive officer, says it’s in the DNA. “Men have deeper voices; we were blessed with a higher pitch,” she tells ESPN.
By that “blessed” reasoning, the solution is simple: Grunt from the gut, girls.
When Jimmy Connors grunted though his points in the ’70s and ’80s, no one accused him of distracting his opponents. More important, no one questioned his manhood. His legacy was secure. Same for John McEnroe, who was seen as a whiny brat, nothing more.
Flash forward to last year’s U.S. Open. When Serena Williams went off on an umpire, she was portrayed as the spawn of Satan. Because Williams is black and the umpire white, an undercurrent of racism undeniably fueled the criticism.
Personally, I’ll take women’s grunts over men’s scrotum-scratching every time. I love tennis, but its etiquette of silence, for both crowds as well as players, is elitist and silly.
I cannot think of another participatory sport in which fans are supposed to sit quietly while the ball is in play. It’s practically un-American. As for players, what kind of sport has the balls to legislate grunts in the first place, not to mention by gender?
I say: Go for the grunts, ladies. Let ‘em rip from every court on the planet, even if you sound like mice in a blender. You’ve earned the right.