Sexism Is Sad

It’s also corrosive, divisive, and wrong. Why does it endure?

Ellen Alperstein Tennis 0 Comments


Sponsored by

Ten years ago, I wrote a commentary for the Los Angeles Times bemoaning a repugnant human artifact I called the male default. In that instance, it was unearthed at the end of the college basketball season. Pat Summitt, then head coach of perennial NCAA powerhouse Tennessee, had won her 880th game, making her the winningest Division I coach ever.

But Summitt, a female, coached a female team, and most media references to Dean Smith, legendary coach of North Carolina’s men’s team, continued to grant him ownership of that title.

It wasn’t conscious, it was thoughtless. It was reflexive. It was also sexist.

I was angry then. Today I’m sad. Sad because the male default remains so reflexively rooted in the human condition that it’s nothing less than primal.

This time, its ugliness took form in the distressing tale of Raymond Moore, late the CEO of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, oft dubbed “the fifth major” tennis tournament. Unless your electronics, your eyes, and your ears are broken, by now you know that Moore’s nakedly sexist comments about women’s professional tennis have deservedly resulted in his departure from his lofty perch.

His comments were so base, so ignorant, so dismissive of the female gender that not even the most forgiving listener could fail to identify the dark place from which they issued: misogyny.

Just as there is no excuse or justification for racism, there is none for misogyny.

Raymond Moore made the Al Campanis mistake and paid in similar fashion. Campanis, then general manager of the L.A. Dodgers, appeared on ABC’s Nightline in 1987 and told anchor Ted Koppel that the dearth of blacks in upper MLB management was because they “may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager."

By all accounts, Campanis was a good man known to have played with and been close to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League ball.

But no one except a racist would articulate such beliefs.

Raymond Moore, a former pro tennis player, was also a human rights activist who vigorously opposed apartheid in his native South Africa. He played against and paved the way for Arthur Ashe to play professionally in his country. More than one media outlet has described their relationship as “best friends.” Moore was moved by his country’s plight, and once said that South Africa was saved “because of Nelson Mandela.”

Raymond Moore was the business partner of Charlie Pasarell, who played tennis at UCLA, where he shared All-American status with Arthur Ashe. Both were NCAA singles champions in the mid-1960s. PM Sports Management, the company Pasarell and Moore formed, started what’s now the BNP Paribas tournament that draws the best players in the world to possibly the world’s best tennis venue. They eventually partnered with Steve Simon, who now heads the Women’s Tennis Association, the organizing body of the pro tour. Their communal grand vision for a tennis tournament surpassed everyone’s expectations, for players, sponsors, and spectators.

I’ve been told that these three men, all leaders not just in sports, but in fair play, are so close they finish each other’s sentences. How is it possible that one of them was so closeted in his beliefs?

Because, like Campanis, I suspect Moore didn’t even know he harbored them. And that is the insidious reality of the male default. It’s such a profound element of the human condition that unless and until people in prominent positions —by choice or circumstance — accept their responsibility to acknowledge its toxic social effect, equality is nothing but a slogan.

It’s a global disease, but it also takes a devastating personal toll. Raymond Moore destroyed a lifetime of good work and goodwill in 30 seconds of honest stupidity. It’s sad, and as much as I loathe what he stands for, he’s a human being, and I feel sorry for him.

Is it naïve, is it cluelessly daft, to hope that his misogyny could serve a higher purpose?

Leave a Reply