Shortly before going to bed last night, my attention has been drawn by an article written by journalist Tom Perrotta for the Wall Street Journal, which was re-tweeted and commented by many of those I follow, tennis fans for the most part at that late hour. After finishing writing a piece about the last U.S. Open quarter-final, I decided to have a look at it.
What I read left me completely baffled, appalled, and disgusted.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA), including General Manager of Player Development Program Patrick McEnroe, has decided to suspend Junior World n° 1 Taylor Townsend, aged only 16, from tournament play, until she hits the gym and gets fitter.
Furthermore, they were not very happy to see her competing in the U.S. Open Junior this week, she who, again, is the best Junior in the world on the girls’ side.
We are talking, here, of a 16-year-old girl, who still has, it is true, some amount of baby fat left to lose, but who most of all has an incredible and undeniable talent.
Is weight sufficient reason to refuse her the right of taking part in tournaments on the part of the USTA? Absolutely not! As the USTA refused to pay for her going to the Junior part of the U.S. Open event, it is Townsend’s mother who took the money to send her daughter to the tournament, where she is, let’s face it, rocking it as she has done most of the year.
Shocking behaviour by a tennis federation
The decision to forbid Townsend taking part in tournaments is, to put it mildly, a completely shocking one from the USTA, and one that can have lingering consequences on the psychological development of any teenager at such an age where the identity is developing the most.
By telling a 16-year-old that she is too fat to compete and that she should get slimmer and hit the gym before they pay her expenses into another tournament, the USTA can have a very negative impact on Townsend’s own self-esteem, something that, if it happens, may take years to overcome.
If you take a look at the women’s Tour, you cannot tell that all the players are “slim and trim”. A good example can be found close to the top 10 when you look at Marion Bartoli (ranked n° 11 to this date). The Frenchwoman is clearly carrying many extra pounds, as we can see from the forms that she exhibits shamelessly in her overly tight clothes.
Does this keep her from winning matches and tournaments? No. In fact, she has been so for a long time and it has not kept her from doing well at tournaments, nor from defeating other top players to do so.
Petra Kvitova, without being, per say, overweight, is also carrying a few extra pounds, which did not keep her from winning Wimbledon last year, or the year-end championships, for that matter, crushing many top opponents in her path, and making it to the top 5 of the WTA.
In both cases, you don’t see the players’ respective tennis federations suspending them until they lose weight, nor did the USTA attempt to do the same with Serena Williams in the time when she was clearly out-of-shape and, yes, overweight.
So why the sudden need from the USTA to hamper with the development of a teenager with some baby fat left, at an age where self-confidence is so easily crushed?
So far, thankfully, the decision hasn’t seemed to damage Townsend’s confidence, as she made her way without many problems to the Girls’ Singles quarter-finals.
According to Perrotta’s piece, the USTA will reassess Townsend’s case when the tournament is over. Is she forced to win it in order to be allowed to play tournaments again?
A baffling and disgusting decision, in my views, which should not happen with any player and which could, at some point, destroy an athlete. Let her develop at her own rhythm, weight loss included.
I sincerely hope that this decision will be publicly called out by media, players, and fans alike. This cannot be carried through. Killing prospects is not the way to manage their future.
Edit, 8 September: Protests won?
Perrotta’s article has started a chain reaction of protests through the tennis community that we haven’t seen in a pretty long time. Players, fans, and many members of the media united to protest vehemently against the USTA’s decision and show their affection, admiration and respect for Taylor Townsend (who lost in straight sets in the singles quarter-finals but reached the doubles final). Among the protesters, two players who also suffered from weight problems when they were teenagers (and pros), Lindsay Davenport and Martina Navratilova, who lashed out about that decision, taking their own personal experiences as examples.
In the evening, the USTA, via Patrick McEnroe, finally spoke out. Apparently, it was a “miscommunication” and the USTA will pay Townsend’s expenses for the U.S. Open. If the words were unconvincing, at least the situation is rectified and the USTA stands corrected. At least, they apologised to Taylor Townsend, even though the damage was already done.
I don’t think we will see them, or any other tennis federation, try to mess up with their prospects for such trivial reasons as baby fat.
We all have Tom Perrotta to thank for bringing this situation into the public eye.