ROLAND GARROS – Here’s the thing about sporting heroes like Margaret Court, and why arenas are named after them.
It’s an honour bestowed because of their accomplishments on the field of play. It’s not done because they’re human beings beyond reproach, or evolved thinkers. Or because they hold positive, rational, halfway-educated beliefs. During their careers we rarely hear much about that they thought about anything beyond their sport, anyway.
So Tennis Australia finds itself in a rather awkward position at the moment. The Aussie tennis icon, for whom the second show court at the Australian Open is named, is opening her mouth and inserting her foot on a regular basis.
She’s now 74 and clearly has little interest at all in listening, learning and perhaps shifting her views about homosexuality, marriage equality or anything else,. But Court hasn’t stopped talking.
Her response Friday to the increasing calls this week for Margaret Court Arena to be stripped of her name was, predictably, defiant.
Bullying, lobbying, conspiring …
Court has this way of saying “I have nothing against them, but…” before going on to offend.
“I think I’ve won more Grand Slams than any man or woman and if it is (renamed), I don’t believe I deserve it,” Court told Melbourne’s 3AW radio.
“They could probably get 100,000 petitions in 24 hours because that’s how they work. There’s a lot of money behind it, and it’s coming from America.”
Court may have gotten wind of some of the petitions out there, including this one – from Australia.
Among other things, Court said she believes the “lobby” (the gay community), which has “a lot of money behind them” are conspiring against her. She said she was being bullied. And that she has a right to air her beliefs. Court also said her nephew, who works at her eponymous tennis academy, had his computers trashed.
“Enough’s enough but they will keep doing it and it’s very militant and it’s sad to think that. But really, I have nothing against them,” she added.
Same old, same old – but more of it
Court’s recent comments only reinforce what we already knew. She has been airing her views about gay rights for years.
The Aussie’s strong religious faith is the basis for consistent public pronouncements that are stuck in the dark ages. They are offensive and unacceptable and scary. Even scarier is that there are plenty of people who agree with her.
But with her latest diatribe, it seemed to have reached a tipping point. Even apolitical, don’t-rock-the-boat tennis players – her countrymen and women – have been speaking out.
(Remember, this is a group that basically remained mum a few years ago when Israeli player Shahar Pe’er was denied a visa to play a tournament in Dubai simply because of the country in which she was born. And this is a crew that regularly accepts millions of dollars in prize money from tournaments held in countries in which women’s rights are merely an illusion without a peep).
But Court’s latest remarks pretty much have ticked every unacceptable box there is. References to Hitler, and Communism, and whatever else might offend most other sane, thinking human beings.
With social media there to fan the flames, and the fact that several of Australia’s prominent female players over the last few years are gay, her words are getting attention as never before. And that’s led to a call from some quarters to remove her name from Margaret Court Arena.
Familiar territory for Dellacqua
Let’s be clear, though. Those calls to action mostly are not from players.
Doubles specialist Casey Dellacqua, who has two children with her female partner, has been the target of Court’s nastiness before. Dellacqua knows her personally; both hail from Perth, and they have hit together.
So this letter to the editor was most disappointing.
Margaret. Enough is enough. pic.twitter.com/Cl1DtC4aSL
— caseydellacqua (@caseydellacqua) May 25, 2017
But … Dellacqua and doubles partner Ashleigh Barty, another Aussie, won’t go as far as to lead the charge for a name change.
“I just prefer probably not to go into any of that. … I love playing in Melbourne so whatever court that might be on, but yeah, I feel fine about all that. I’ll just leave that one,” Dellacqua said.
“It’s something that Tennis Australia will decide and either take action or not. The Australian Open is many, many months away. So we’ve got a job in front of us this week and for the rest of the year, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it, but it’s certainly not for us to comment on,” Barty said.
Despite some reports that stated Samantha Stosur was calling for a boycott of the arena, the veteran Aussie said she suggested no such thing.
“I’ve never said I was going to boycott or anything like that. Look, it’s not for me to make those comments. I’m going to head down to the Australian Open when it rolls around next year, and we’ll get on whatever court we have to play on. But obviously I don’t agree with what she’s coming out with saying,” Stosur said.
More players opine
Men’s No. 1 Andy Murray strongly denounced Court’s comments but suggested that if Tennis Australia does anything, they should make the move long before next year’s event begins.
“I hadn’t heard anything about the arena changing names. I’m not sure about that,” Murray said.
“The arena, I don’t know. It’s not my decision. … Obviously, she’s a legend of the sport for Australia. But I don’t agree with what she said. I don’t have much of an opinion on the arena, but I know it’s a great court,” Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis said.
Dutch player Richel Hogenkamp would go along with it.
“Obviously, she has all the right to think her own way, everybody has. But for me, to be in this kind of position, I don’t think you should be that outspoken. And for me personally, I have a girlfriend myself. So for me, obviously, I don’t agree with what she’s saying,” Hogenkamp said. “So I think it would be a good thing to see if Australian Open can maybe change the name of the stadium, because I think if you’re in that kind of position, maybe some players they don’t feel so comfortable playing in a stadium named after Margaret Court.”
Canadian Milos Raonic called Court’s comments “really shocking”.
“I won’t get necessarily into the politics on what something should and shouldn’t be called, but I think to some extent definitely there should be some kind of apology and whatever repercussions there are, there are,” he said.
Martina calls for name change
The latest to press for change is Court’s fellow tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
Navratilova believes naming an arena after an athlete is a statement on the person as a whole. That’s a nice fantasy. It’s not reality, though. Navratilova thinks Margaret Court Arena should be …something else.
“It is now clear exactly who Court is: an amazing tennis player, and a racist and a homophobe. Her vitriol is not just an opinion. She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights,” Navratilova wrote in a letter “to” Margaret Court Arena, published Thursday in the Sydney Morning Herald. “The platform people like Margaret Court use needs to be made smaller, not bigger.”
Court, of course, says Navratilova should mind her own business.
“She needs to sort out her own nation, not our nation,” Court said in the radio interview. “A lot of nations have gone to gay marriage, and I think this nation I don’t believe needs to go that way. I think we need to stand our ground.”
Tennis Australia in a tough spot
Here’s the problem for Tennis Australia, which so far has only issued a rather benign statement disassociating itself from Court’s statements.
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) May 25, 2017
— Margaret Court Arena (@MCourtArena) May 25, 2017
If they are an organization “committed to embracing equality”, but they keep Court’s name on the court, they’ll be viewed as just paying lip service to these fundamental human rights.
But if they open the door to a rename, they open a can of worms.
What if they renamed it after someone else? And then, in later years, something comes out about that person’s past that suddenly also tarnishes their legacy?
Another social-media storm is set off. But the precedent will have been established that Tennis Australia can bend to public opinion, however valid. And, as we all know, the threshold for outrage always drops with every subsequent, similar situation.
In the end, changing the name won’t change the way Margaret Court thinks. It won’t change the way those who agree with her abject lack of humanity think.
At this point, she just isn’t going to suddenly join the 20th century (never mind the 21st). And she feels strongly enough about these issues that she clearly doesn’t care how airing her views already is tarnishing her sporting legacy.
Will tennis players go as far as to boycott matches on that court, if they’re scheduled there next year? It’s highly unlikely – especially if they run the risk of being defaulted and losing all that prize money.
The best solution for Tennis Australia would be to quietly announce the naming rights to the arena have sold to some big corporation. And that those extra dollars will help keep the Australian Open the “Happy, inclusive and diverse Slam” for years to come.