When longshot Goran Ivanisevic took the Wimbledon trophy earlier this month,
much was made of his fairy-tale route to the championship.
Reuters called him “Goran Crusoe, the Beatles, and Cinderella all in
one.” What few in the media acknowledged during the celebration of the
Croatian phoenix were the homophobic comments that followed his triumph over Australian Patrick Rafter.
In the post-match press conference, Ivanisevic vented frustration over
several questionable calls, telling reporters, “Then I hit another second
serve, huge. And that ball was on the line, was not even close. And that
guy, he looks like a faggot little bit, you know. This hair all over him.
He call it. I couldn’t believe he
did it.” A handful of reporters laughed at the comment.
Talk about a news hole: The remark was edited
out of the streaming video of the interview available on the official Wimbledon Web
Most mainstream media reports of the press conference (except for a column by the Los Angeles Times‘ Diane Pucin) also omitted the
slur — and that has some media-watchers worried.
It’s remarkable that “an athlete can casually
drop a word like ‘faggot’ in a high-profile media interview and not only is
there very little media coverage of his comment, but several reporters in
the room can be heard laughing at it,” says Scott Seomin, spokesman for the
Gay and Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). In fact, Ivanisevic has used the word repeatedly in the past, with even less press coverage
than the modicum his Wimbledon
To be fair, Ivanisevic is hardly the only sports figure — or even tennis player — to have made
homophobic remarks in high-profile situations recently. In January 1999, after the 19-year-old French sensation
Mauresmo told reporters that she was in a lesbian relationship (she is
the first active player to speak openly about her orientation since Martina
Navratilova), the top-seeded Martina Hingis called her “half a
man.” Chances are, if you get your sporting news from mainstream US
sources, you didn’t know that.
What if it were a matter of racism — which Richard Willams, father of
Venus and Serena, says is rampant in professional tennis —
rather than homophobia? “If Ivanisevic had used the ‘N-word,’ I doubt that
press reaction would have been this muted,” says GLAAD’s Seomin.
True enough. In fact, the only prominent cases of sports heroes publicly
vilified for antigay remarks have been those who also made
racist comments — most notably football star Reggie White and major-league baseball pitching ace John Rocker.
Homophobia in sports has deep roots for obvious reasons. Sports is about
physical strength, a characteristic stereotypically associated with
masculinity. You tear down a male competitor’s
reputation by suggesting that he is effeminate (“You throw like a girl”) or
berate a female athlete by implying that she is not not
feminine enough. It’s an ugly part of today’s mental gamesmanship.
It has also stunted and ruined careers. Washington Redskin Ray McDonald was arrested and
charged with a misdemeanor for having sex with another man in a public park
in the late 1960s, and lost his job and his career. Billie Jean King was dumped
by her sponsors, including Nike, when she came out in 1981. When rumors circulated that Olympian Greg Louganis was gay, endorsements dried up; he suspected that sponsors feared being associated with homosexuality.
Fortunately, a few have fared better. Pro golfer Muffin Spencer-Devlin came out amid much controversy about lesbians on the LPGA tour, but
her sponsors — Calloway and MetRX — stood by her until she retired.
Martina Navratilova suffered a dearth of big endorsement deals until
several years into her retirement, when the major corporations realized how
loved she was by the public despite (or because of?) her sexuality; now she is the
public face of Subaru and can boast a host of other lucrative endorsement
But if things have gotten better for celebrities, athletes in the trenches still struggle with the fears their peers faced 30 years ago. In a 1994 NCAA study, 49 percent of female athletes
and 51 percent
of female coaches surveyed said they felt homophobia hampered efforts to attract
and retain women in athletic careers. And media coverage isn’t helping: Unsubstantiated rumors about athletes’ sexual
orientation make tabloid headlines, while evidence of athletes’ bigotry is buried or ignored.
(For more information,
check out the Women’s Sports Foundation’s “Homophobia in Women’s Sports,” and the
Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in
Sport at the University of Minnesota.)
Bits and Pieces
FORGET DINKs — HERE COME THE
Get ready for the latest FLA (four-letter acronym): HNWI, or high
net-worth individuals (those with liquid assets worth at least $1 million)
account for one in about 850 people in the world and collectively own $27
trillion in the world’s liquid assets (not including property). And their net worth grew last year by 6 percent,
despite a drop in the value of the world’s markets, according to Merrill
Lynch. There is also such thing as an UHNWI, or “ultra high net-worth
individual,” but to get that tag, you need $30 million just burning a hole
in your pocket. According to the Merrill Lynch report, more than a third of
the world’s HNWIs reside in North America, and their number grew 2.4
percent to 2.54 million individuals over the past year.
PHILLIP MORRIS IN VEGEMITE
Australian electronics magnate and multimillionaire Dick Smith is one of Oz’s
most unlikely anti-globalists. Smith was disgusted with what he saw as the
imperialism of American and European companies in the quirky Australian
food and beverage markets: Phillip
Morris subsidiary Kraft Foods owns the ultimate Aussie delectable known as
Vegemite. So he started Dick Smith Foods — a not-for-profit
licensing business that sells the Dick Smith name and label to local
franchisees, and donates all profits not reinvested in the company to
Australian charities. One of his flagship products: A yeast extract called Ozemite, a direct
challenge to Vegemite.
THE CHOCOLATE WAR
The Chocolate Manufacturers Association is aggressively opposing legislation aimed at ending
the use of child slave labor in the production of chocolate. A recent Knight Ridder investigation found that boys as
young as nine are sold or tricked into slavery to
harvest cocoa beans in Ivory Coast, a West African nation that
supplies 43 percent of the world’s cocoa. The State
Department estimates that as many as 15,000 child slaves work on
Ivory Coast’s cocoa, cotton and coffee farms. The
industry group has retained former senators Bob Dole and George Mitchell
to lobby against a proposal to require “slave-free” labels on chocolate
sold in the US.