One year ago, June 5, 2011, Lynn Barber fired the shot heard around the tennis world: a tension filled, somewhat rude, and frankly, very bizarre interview with Rafael Nadal. Now, after the past eight months of ultrasounds, biopsy, surgery and ingesting radioactive poison, I have a decidedly masochistic streak. This streak is so bad, that I decided to reread the article and post my thoughts on it. (The streak is that bad.)
The article drew a hugely negative reaction from Rafa fans everywhere. On Twitter, Lynn Barber actually compared the rabid reactions from his fans to the reaction of Muslim fundamentalists to blasphemy against Muhammed. I never wrote her any nasty letter, but my journal does contain references to Lynn Barber and Rita Skeeter, the malicious journalist in the Harry Potter series.
Actually, a year removed from the original article, I realized that the article was perhaps not as offensive as it originally seen. It’s still offensive, for reasons I’ll mention later. However, she is not entirely hostile to Rafa in her article. For the most part, she is raging not at Rafa, but at the PR structure that surrounds Rafa, the media, the journalists. At other times, she is able to (almost!) express concern and compassion for Rafa in her article.
I’m going to start with the positives of this article, since there were positives. (It’s true!)
First of all, she is right about the grind of the tour, and the sacrifices that are demanded from tennis players. This goes not just for tennis, players, but also for many other athletes. Many NFL players are suffering concussions, gymnasts are tearing ligaments and tendons left and right, and the real question is; will any of them be able to walk at the age of 50? My co-worker’s husband was/is very much into athletics, but he is looking at a hip replacement soon. He just turned 50. Is any award worth the damage to the body?
Second of all, she is also totally right about the image factory of professional athletes. Athletes have to present an image to the public, and to some extent, the sports journalists are complicit in presenting that image to the world. I remember a radio host on Cleveland radio talking about how the Cleveland press, for the most part, covered up a lot of the seedier stories about LeBron James until he left. Occasionally, the stories would leak out, but for the most part, the journalists in Cleveland sang that man’s praises and presented him not just as a great basketball player, but as an upstanding human being. (Hahaha!)
I can’t help thinking about Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, when Mrs. Cheevely talks about the perils of Puritanism. “In the old days, no one tried to be a bit better than his neighbor, in fact, to be a bit better than one’s neighbor was considered excessively vulgar and middle class.”
Ok, the positives are done. I’ll focus on the negatives next time, and the other issues that this articles raised. 🙂