When Lleyton Hewitt came on the tennis scene about 8 years ago now, I rooted for him. He had a different style of play (relatively speaking--he certainly falls into the category of power hitter). He got the crowd into it and heck--he was from Australia. When Patrick Rafter left the game we needed another charismatic Aussie to take his place. And of course he was dating Belgian player Kim Clijsters who is just the epitome of professionalism.
But post-break-up Hewitt's behavior has just irked me. Now that he's engaged to and about to become the father of the baby of an Australian soap star, his life seems to have a lot of drama. His "Come-ons" have gotten louder and come at more inappropriate times. His dodging of the press is well-known (though having heard and read some of the inane questions from post-match press conferences I can't really blame him all that much for this). So I had casually written him off. But after his latest episode I am taking out my red correcting pen and furiously crossing him out.
During last week's David Cup contest where Hewitt was playing Argentina's Guillermo Coria, an angered Hewitt called the umpire a "poof"--Australian slang for gay. Initially he denied it--but Hewitt seems to forget that these matches are taped for television and the footage makes it clear. He finally apologized but only after he had been caught in his lie. This is eerily reminiscent of the incident during the James Blake match at the US Open several years ago when Hewitt, again angered, accused one of the linesmen of making calls in Blake's favor because he too was black. Hewitt denied and Blake graciously let him off the hook.
That should have been my getting off the Hewitt bandwagon point but I kept thinking, "if Kim likes him he must have some redeeming qualities." But no. It's now a pattern and one that only gets a slap on the wrist. Hewitt will be fined for his behavior but for a man that makes millions in endorsements along with prize money, it won't even make a dent. (On a side note--what does the International Tennis Federation do with the fine money it collects?)
Coria is not off the hook either. Though he didn't use any racist or homophobic slang during the match he did grab his crotch several times, according to Hewitt, in a sophmoric gesture of--whatever it is that men hope to convey by crotch-grabbing. What is it with men and their phalluses? Can you imagine someone like Serena Williams or Lindsay Davenport being angry at a call and grabbing her breasts and shaking them at an opponent or official? Why do we have such different standards or rather levels of public acceptance for professional athletes' behavior based on their gender?