Archive for Saturday, May 17, 2003

Sorenstam’s participation misguided

May 17, 2003


— Vijay Singh was right about one thing: Annika Sorenstam has no business teeing it up with the boys.

And not because of the intolerant reasons Singh so shallowly stated. Not because she is doing a disservice to her male competitors. But because she is doing a disservice to the entire women's sports movement.

If you don't believe me, just ask Martha Burk, a champion of women's rights and public enemy No. 1 of the men's golfing establishment. Not that Burk would ever publicly slam Sorenstam for playing in a men's tour event next week, but just read between the lines.

"For an individual player to challenge herself is an interesting sidebar," Burk said in a phone interview earlier this week. "But in the broader sense, I am not an advocate of integrating sports. It would destroy women's sports. What's the point of putting women at a natural disadvantage? We're not idiots. We know there are physical differences between men and women."

That is why Sorenstam cannot compete with the best pros in the world. In fact, I'm not sure she could compete with the best club pros in the world -- just as the WNBA champion couldn't compete with any decent high school boys basketball team.

Men and women play a different game. Men's basketball is played above the rim, women's basketball below the rim. Men's golf is played with driver and short iron. Women's golf is played with driver and fairway wood.

Women golfers shouldn't be denigrated because they can't compete with men, just as college football champions aren't denigrated because they can't compete with NFL champions. It's a different level.

Then again, Ohio State isn't subjecting itself to getting stomped 100-to-nothing by the Tampa Bay Bucs. Sorenstam is. And will.

This is unfortunate because her inevitable failure will only further perpetuate the already prevalent "men are superior to women" mentality that pervades not only sports but politics, religion and even the workplace.

Already, the male-dominated sports industry takes great glee in bashing female athletes. It has become cool for Neanderthal knuckle-dragging commentators to take shots at the WNBA, LPGA and every other women's sports endeavor.

Imagine what happens next week at the Colonial when Sorenstam misses the cut (which she will) and finishes in last place (which she might). It'll be more ammunition for the Neanderthals. She'll go from being Annika Sorenstam, the greatest female golfer in the world, to Annika Sorenstam, who finished 20 shots behind K.J. Choi.

Sorenstam might believe this is just a one-time curiosity, but for most of the sporting public, this will be her legacy. What does it say that Sorenstam has been more dominant the past two seasons than Tiger Woods but hasn't even made a blip on America's radar screen until now? At last count, more than 500 media credentials have been issued for the Colonial -- four times the normal.

The world will be watching and wondering, just as it was three decades ago when another gender-busting athlete provided the feminist movement with a defining moment. But there's a reason Billie Jean King played 55-year-old Bobby Riggs and not 22-year-old Jimmy Connors: She knew if she got humiliated, it would be a devastating blow to women's sports.

Sorenstam should withdraw from the Colonial before she gets embarrassed and do it the way Billy Jean did it.

Bobby Riggs may be dead.

But Billy Casper is available.

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