Pun­ish­ing the truth

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Bradley R. Gitz Free­lance colum­nist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, re­ceived his Ph.D. in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence from the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois.

We were re­cently pre­sented with an ex­am­ple of how the nox­ious com­bi­na­tion of iden­tity pol­i­tics and po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness can make peo­ple blither­ing idiots.

The vic­tim of the crazi­ness this time around was for­mer ten­nis great John McEn­roe, who was naïve enough to hon­estly an­swer a ques­tion about cur­rent ten­nis great Ser­ena Wil­liams.

When asked by a reporter about where Wil­liams ranks among the other greats who have played the game, McEn­roe, who al­most cer­tainly knows some­thing of which he speaks, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally said she was the “best fe­male player ever— no ques­tion.”

But that praise wasn’t good enough for the reporter, who then asked why he qual­i­fied it with the term “fe­male player” and couldn’t sim­ply de­clare Wil­liams “the best player in the world.” A baf­fled McEn­roe, ap­par­ently sur­prised by the weird fol­low-up ques­tion, said it was be­cause “if she played the men’s cir­cuit, she’d be, like, 700 in the world.”

The rend­ing of gar­ments and pulling of hair among the usual sus­pects fol­lowed ac­cord­ingly.

Po­ten­tial ex­ag­ger­a­tion (maybe) aside, McEn­roe’s point was inar­guable—that Ser­ena Wil­liams, as great as she is on the fe­male cir­cuit, wouldn’t stand a chance against Roger Fed­erer or Rafael Nadal or No­vak Djokovic. In­deed, the hunch is she couldn’t have taken a sin­gle game, let alone a set or match, against McEn­roe him­self in his prime (no one was ever bet­ter at the serve and vol­ley game that ill-suits women’s ten­nis than Mac).

It is not “diss­ing” Ser­ena Wil­liams or fe­male ten­nis play­ers or women more gen­er­ally in any way to ac­knowl­edge any of this.

Af­ter all, how many bas­kets would the best women’s bas­ket­ball player be able to score in a one-onone game against LeBron James or Kevin Du­rant? Would the world’s fastest woman sprinter make Usain Bolt even break a sweat in the 200 me­ters? And what chance would the world’s best woman’s baseball player have had to make con­tact with a Nolan Ryan fast­ball?

We know the an­swers to these ques­tions, as did the ogre McEn­roe. But the fake out­rage ma­chine must be ap­peased and scalps de­manded when peo­ple tell truths that vi­o­late the stric­tures of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, be­cause out­rage and in­dig­na­tion rather than truth are in­creas­ingly what our mis­named public dis­course is all about.

Alas, there is a rea­son why world records in most sports are kept sep­a­rately for men and women, and why the men’s records are much bet­ter than the women’s. That rea­son is a stub­born thing called bi­ol­ogy and its con­se­quences in the form of mem­bers of one gen­der (male) be­ing gen­er­ally big­ger, stronger and faster than mem­bers of the other (fe­male). In­deed, it is worth not­ing along these lines that the women’s 100-me­ter world record, now nearly 30 years old, is slower than the win­ning time in many boys’ high school meets.

I don’t know whether Ser­ena Wil­liams could ac­tu­ally beat the world’s 699th ranked male ten­nis player (I se­ri­ously doubt it), but I know who I would rush to place some big bets on if she played any of the top 100.

But then none of this has much to do with women’s ath­let­ics or gen­der equal­ity, does it? To the con­trary, it has to do with the thrill of dis­cov­ery on the part of the per­pet­u­ally of­fended when they come across some­thing in their con­tin­ual search that of­fends them, de­fined as some­body say­ing some­thing they don’t like but can’t re­fute with facts or logic.

Rather than be­ing in­ter­ested in what is and isn’t true, the peo­ple who rushed to de­nounce a male ten­nis player for speak­ing the truth about a fe­male ten­nis player are mostly in­ter­ested in power and co­er­cion, and its em­ploy­ment in the ser­vice of ex­tract­ing a suf­fi­cient level of oblig­a­tory and rit­u­al­is­tic grov­el­ing from the tar­geted party (in this case John McEn­roe).

Com­ment­ing on the ab­sur­dity of it all, Na­tional Re­view’s David French noted that “Ser­ena Wil­liams is a tremen­dous ath­lete, a his­toric tal­ent. There is no shame in be­ing the best ath­lete in her sport, and her sport is women’s ten­nis. … In the mean­time, it would be­hoove mem­bers of the so-called ‘party of sci­ence’ to re­mem­ber that bi­ol­ogy ac­tu­ally does trump ide­ol­ogy.”

To his credit, McEn­roe has, at the time of writ­ing, re­fused to grovel and apol­o­gize, as there is no rea­son he should for telling a truth ev­i­dent to all.

And how do we know it is the truth?

Ac­tu­ally, we can take Ser­ena’s word for it, more pre­cisely her re­sponse when asked a few years back about play­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion against Bri­tain’s Andy Mur­ray: “Are you kid­ding … I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six min­utes, maybe 10 min­utes. … It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it’s just a dif­fer­ent game.”

So for those who are so eas­ily of­fended and whose pas­sions so eas­ily aroused by the triv­ial, some ad­vice: Get off Twit­ter and the In­ter­net in gen­eral, maybe read a book or two, ac­quire some knowl­edge and try to do that ap­par­ently chal­leng­ing thing called think­ing. And then, and only then, for­mu­late some opin­ions.

And, in this case, maybe try to watch a lit­tle men’s and women’s ten­nis, too.

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