Saturday, August 27, 2005

Tennis umps fight back

Though my primary interest in gender and sports lies with athletes and often the organizing bodies to which they are beholden, I also pay some attention to the gendered aspects of sports leadership/administration, including the cause of sports officials (referees, umpires, etc.) an issue I have highlighted in previous blog entries .
In part, my interest is in the overall lack of interest this issue receives, so often overshadowed by the equity issues among athletes that predominate the discussion. But even the casual observer (OK maybe you have to have a general awareness of gender equity issues at-large) can see that men officiate men's games/matches/events and most often do so in women's events too. I don't remember seeing one female umpire at the Little League Softball World Series. This practice is also very engrained in professional tennis. While women do serve as linespeople in both men's and women's matches, they are rarely in the chair as the match umpire and if they are, thay are officiating women's matches only. (Though I did hear, but did not witness, that Wimbledon had begin to let women officiate early round men's matches.) Well the umpires in tennis have had enough and filed a discrimination suit.
But what is most interesting is that suit is actually citing racial discrimination as the primary grievance. Both umpires are black, one a man, one a woman. As much as I wish a lawsuit was not necessary, this one reminds us of the importance of coalition building even in sports. Where there are issues of gender equity, issues of racial equity/discrimination are oftne not far behind , and vice versa. I am eager to see what comes of this lawsuit. One of the two has already being fired, allegedly for bringing complaints about the US Tennis Association to light. The other fears she will be terminated soon as well. Given the emerging publicity about the case and the pending US Open, such a move would probably be unwise, but it also hasn't been the best policy to practice such blatant discrimination.