Bill Simon's recent article for Inside Tennis completely captures my thoughts and opinions about the Justin Gimelslob debacle. The fact that Gimelslob was permitted to continue to broadcast Wimbledon for Tennis Channel in the wake of his horrific comments was shocking. That I had to sit there and watch him sit next to Martina Navritilova during Wimbledon Primetime made it all the more awkward.
I tuned into a World Team Tennis match last week just to see Gimelslob's demeanor. Here's how he came off: a guy who knew the whole world was looking at him, judging him, and in some circles, hating him, and he was in damage control. He was business-like in his play and his demeanor. That's all fine, but here's what I was hoping I'd see: contriteness; humility; apology. But all I saw was a guy who was trying to save his public persona and thereby, his career.
Oh, poor Justin. Sports Illustrated took away his blog. Poor Justin had to give some money to the Women's Sports Foundation. Poor Justin got suspended by World Team Tennis for ONE GAME (and let me tell you, after watching his performance last week, his suspension isn't hurting anyone).
Some excerpts from Simon's article:
What was alarming was in ‘05 when he claimed that women on the WTA Tour live in a “bizarro” world, with more and more skimpy outfits. Soon he predicted that that tennis “courts will resemble volleyball courts with g-strings and bikinis.” He suggested that the women were in competition with the supermodel types who often date or marry ATP players because they “have to share the players lounge with the 1 percent most beautiful creatures in the world.” Then he claimed, “If you look like a beached whale, keep your clothes on.”
But when he was told his remarks were demeaning, he bristled and offered a tin ear. In denial, he didn’t get how inappropriate his words were. Similarly, his friend Lindsay Davenport noted, “I’m always curious about what the fascination is with men and how they have to judge women constantly, what they wear, who they hang out with, what they look like.” Davenport told him, “You can’t really represent all men?” But Justin insisted, “I do.” So Lindsay just said “Okay” and walked away.
But nothing in tennis’ male-chauvinist Hall of Shame came close to the demeaning rant ‘n ramble he spewed forth on “The Junkies” — a low-brow, morning zoo Washington D.C. radio show. Here we heard far more than just a harmless stray comment. Any caring person had to be stunned by his mean-spirited string of mindless and abusive comments. He warmed up by saying that Nicole Vaidisova was a “well-developed young lady” who was, along with Alize Cornet “a sexpot.” He contended, “There are fewer lesbians now because they’re all Russian chicks,” and claimed female players “lack social skills. They don’t go to high school, they don’t go to parties.”
Then he went off on Anna Kournikova. Sure, the problematic ex-phenom (who once said, “I’m not Venus. I’m not Serena. I’m feminine. I don’t want to look the way they do”) is an inviting target. But it can be argued that, with her astounding success, she inspired more female players than anyone East of Billie Jean King. All this didn’t deter Justin.
“She’s a *****,” he said. “We’re going to kick her a—,” and added that he planned to heckle the 27-year-old when her St. Louis Aces visit his Washington Kastles on July 23. “If she’s not crying by the time she walks off that court then I did not do my job,” he said. Ouch!
“I just despise her to the maximum level, right below hate,” he added. “She falls into the Marcelo Rios ‘scumbag’ category...She’s gonna be serving 40 miles an hour and I’m going to be just plugging it down her throat...I’ll mock her, make fun...[and] just make her know she’s stupid...She’ll rue the day that she has to come here and actually share space with me.” Cruel.
Gimelstob added that Anna might not even be smart enough to read the league schedule and, as if turning his racket into an assault weapon, said “I’m going to just serve it right into the body, about 128 mph right into the midriff” and added, “I have no attraction to her, because she’s such a douche.”
Then, if those venomous comments weren’t enough, he seemed to condone the unthinkable, saying, “I wouldn’t mind having my younger brother, who’s kind of a stud, nail her and then reap the benefits of that.”
Despite many stunning advances, tennis remains a massively macho game. Yet even within this context, the response to Gimelstob’s outrageous blast and the (“God forbid we stick out our neck and show some spine”) lack of appropriate accountability - was almost as disgraceful as the abusive comments themselves. Many players were silent, but there were a few brief flares of outrage. Martina Navratilova called Justin’s comments “moronic,” but said she didn’t want to get involved.
An outraged Chanda Rubin, the daughter of a judge, allegedly considered resigning from the Tennis Channel, but stayed on.
Kournikova herself refused to retaliate, saying, “I’m going to take the high road,” while Serena, Gimelstob’s teammate on the Kastles, said the comments were “totally uncalled for. Being pro-women’s rights, I just think we’ve come farther than to be referred to like this.” And Justin’s former mixed dubs partner, Venus, chose to ream him in private.
To their credit, Sport Illustrated quietly took away Justin’s blog as Gimelstob and the many institutions he’s come to be involved with went into damage control, complete with a flurry of mea culpa commentaries. Justin, who announced he would be making an unspecified cash contribution to the Women’s Sports Foundation, said “There is no excuse for my actions, and I am extremely disappointed in myself...My hurtful remarks do not reflect the genuine and deep respect I have for women...Nothing but time and positive actions can take back my misguided words...I know I have learned a great deal from this.”
So many in sports have lost their jobs for just a single comment or two. Dodger exec Al Campanis, who asserted blacks were not smart enough to manage in baseball’s big leagues; CBS broadcaster Jimmy the Greek, who claimed blacks were good athletes because of their breeding; and of course, Imus, who said the Rutgers basketball team were a bunch of “nappy-headed hos,” were all promptly dismissed.
Any bonafide journalist who made a similar string of comments would be gone in a flash. For instance, the Golf Channel suspended broadcaster Kelly Tilghman (who could point to a notable body of work) for a month for her wretched — but perhaps inadvertent — comment that younger golfers might do well to lynch Tiger Woods in a back alley. So did the Tennis Channel step up and suspend Gimelstob for his vastly worse behavior for a year, a month, a week, a day? No, except for the usual suspects statement, he got nothing.
Worst of all was World TeamTennis. After all, this is the mother church of the voices for equal opportunity in sports; the epicenter of those whose sage and shrill calls for gender equality and (“c’mon, we can do this the right way”) humanity have been sounding for decades. So is Gimelstob promptly kicked out of the league or, if not, at least suspended for a year?
No — we get another “heartfelt remorse” statement and he is benched for a single match and — get this — it won’t even be the match against Kournikova’s Aces, which now will be transformed into a three-ring PR circus and (“cha-ching”) marketing bonanza.
When I spoke to Justin himself, he said, “I was wrong and out of line. It’s all in the statement. I’m contrite. I was fully out of line. It’s all in the statement.”
“Have you actually contacted Anna,” I asked.
Twitchy, uncomfortable and avoiding eye contact, he repeated his mantra: “It’s all in the statement.” Likewise, when I tried to ask more in-depth questions, the answer was the same. Finally, in frustration, I asked, “Isn’t it ironic that a man like you — who makes his living by getting interviews — will not give an interview.” His response: “It’s all in the statement.”
At a time of equal prize money, in the 35th anniversary year of “The Battle of the Sexes,” when bonanza contracts swell the coffers of the women’s game and scintillating storylines abound, tennis was burdened with the most crude, expletive-laden rant in American sports history, a callous, indulgent meltdown that makes “you are the pits of the world” seem like a modest civil complaint.
At Wimbledon, my van driver claimed, “It’s impossible to row back from comments like that. Behavior like that just can’t be re-habilitated. That fellow’s not fit to be in public life ever again.”
I disagree. And, like most others, I don’t want to be punitive or vindictive to an engaging man who has the potential to give so much more. But, certainly, Justin shouldn’t have broadcast Wimbledon for the Tennis Channel. He should have been suspended from the ATP board for at least six months and sidelined, at least for the season, by World TeamTennis. Instead, the elders of the game didn’t seem to get what horrific messages he’s sent, nor did they grasp the importance of accountability. In the end, tennis‘ incredibly timid response was simply to be found, as Justin said, “all in the statement.”