via Vishal Gautam
I'd been contemplating writing a column about Nick Kyrgios for some months now. It was going to revolve around a young man of color coming up in Australia and what could have shaped the way he reacts to the outside world as a result of that. Of course my perspective is based on being a woman of color in the United States which in some respects isn't that different from being a person of color in Australia. The attack on Kyrgios by Dawn Fraser who is described by some Australians as being a known racist (she also threw in Bernard Tomic so she's not just a racist but a xenophobe as well I suppose) made me think more about writing about him from that perspective.
Needless to say after the events in Montréal this week what would have been a quasi sympathetic look at this young man is not possible.
Let me be clear. I really, really, don't care for Stanislas Wawrinka, a man who left his family not once but twice, once because his family was an inconvenience holding him back from pursuing his quest for tennis greatness, the second time for the usual "irreconcilable differences". The second separation only became public when he blamed his impending divorce for his on court woes. His long suffering wife was not having it and publicly revealed that the couple had been separated for five months already so she was not the cause of his problems. She said lots of other things too but I am not going there. Divorces are ugly. Athletes are promiscuous. That is old familiar territory and in the "sky is blue" category when it comes to discussing athletes and the ever present groupies, professional or otherwise.
I'm also an avid sports fan. I have been since my Dad and I used to watch the Friday Night Fights way back in the day as well as baseball, American football, and later basketball. I'm therefore very familiar with male sports culture and the way it's presented to the public. I can go on and on about whether this is right or wrong but that's not what this column is about. What I want to focus on is the sanctity of the locker room. It's the first commandment of sports, of any sport, team or individual, male or female. What happens, what gets said, who has beef with who, stays there. If some of this leaks out it's often after a sports figure has put himself or herself in a position where the information or behavior being revealed has been made public by the actions of the athlete themselves. Are there locker room snitches? Of course. A good reporter has to cultiviate sources inside the sport. He or she has to be a "team player" though and know what to reveal and what not to reveal. A player who violates the Code becomes a pariah. Hope Solo's off court behavior tarnished the triumph of her team but she did that on her own. No one who played with her said jack. Reporters kept their mouths shut.
Which brings us to what would have been a normal match between Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios during the Masters 1000 event being played this year in Montréal. Kyrgios, who had already gotten away with calling a chair umpire "dirty scum" during another tournament, playing Wawrinka, was not on my list of must see matches. I had every intention of ignoring the match until I saw a Vine posted by Ricky Dimon (@Dimonator) on Twitter. I was among 11 million people who watched the Vine slack jawed. On court, next to a microphone, Kyrgios threw what had up until then could still be called an alleged affair, not only in his opponents face but in the publics as well. To say chaos ensued is putting it mildly.
Tennis Channel, which broadcast the match live, disgraced itself by at first refusing to talk about the incident and only after what I can only imagine was a Keystone Cops routine taking place behind the scenes subjected us to a paen to Justin Gimelstob presented by none other than Justin Gimelstob before gingerly addressing the situation, one that had already crossed over to main stream sports media. Why would the comments of an up to then mostly unknown outside of tennis circles player make main stream sports media? Because what he did is never, ever done. It was a code violation of the nth degree and all athletes blood had to run cold. Would this person embolden other like minded players to start revealing things about team mates or other competitors legions of PR flaks get paid big bucks to keep hidden and/or spin? Would their behind the scenes behavior leave the gossip sites and move onto "legit" sports pages? Make no mistake the implications of this young man's actions reach far beyond tennis.
That is why the story that was published this morning by Danielle Rossingh saying that Kyrgios faces up to a three year ban, a fine of $100,000 on top of the $12,500 fine already imposed is so important. Tennis Australia can issue all the mealy mouthed statements it wants. Kyrgios can use his "apology" as a shield if he still can since more video has emerged of him starting in on Wawrinka's private life early in the match (and next to the microphones) but he has to be made an example of. No one "picked on" him. No one took his words out of context. No one has taken his prior behavior out of context. This is a self inflicted wound, one that he will apparently have some time to think about. It was the newly outraged Justin Gimelstob, ATP Board member, who first mentioned suspension of some kind being demanded by players. Maybe I should say "fearful players". All of sports, all sports, depend on the perception of their sport being played by high minded men and women who live by the hallowed concept of sportsmanship. The public, much more sophisticated than in the past, gladly goes along with this illusion since it allows them to indulge in their fantasies of what they are really like and idolize those who embody their self image.
The slut shaming of a young female athlete is the secondary story here but to me it's equally as important as the violation of The Code. Who will ever see her play now without thinking about her relationship with Wawrinka and its possible role in the break up of his marriage? Who won't, in some part of the subconscious, be calling her a "slut"?
Go on and say you won't but when you catch yourself saying "she's the one who was messing with a married man, broke up his marriage and then went from one player to another" to a friend or fellow sports fan or tennis enthusiast, don't be surprised. This will shadow her career, or what's left of it.
The other person who was slandered? Well he's a manly man betrayed by his "friend". He'll get all the sympathy and good press.
And Nick Kyrgios? His fate remains to be seen. He's got his apologists but will they be a good enough shield to hold back what has to be done to maintain the wall of silence around sports locker rooms everywhere? The ball is in the ATP's court now. Let's see how big their cojones are. They can't not do something. The entire sports world is watching.
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