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Archive for Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Commentary: Hyping Patrick over Sorenstam unfair

June 15, 2005

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— Annika and Danica.

They are professional athletes who have reached a level of fame so impressive that each can be identified just by her first name.

The main difference between them is that golfer Annika Sorenstam, who walked away over the weekend with the McDonald's LPGA Championship in Havre de Grace, Md., and is halfway to winning the Grand Slam of women's golf, actually has won something in her career.

Danica Patrick, a rookie driver in the Indy Racing League who finished 13th Saturday in something called the Bombardier Learjet 500 in Fort Worth, Texas, merely is a trophy who never has hoisted one.

Harsh? Perhaps, but the media frenzy surrounding Patrick and the attention given Sweden's Sorenstam, appreciative but hardly effusive, have nothing to do with the relative accomplishments of the two women.

All of this says something about the nature of women's sports in this country, about the insatiable shallowness of the marketing monsters. It also says that, unfortunately, when it comes to judging women, society often is less concerned with the proper application of logic than with the proper application of mascara.

While Patrick isn't complaining - as if she could somehow slow the frenzy or should apologize for being an undeniably attractive 23-year-old - there is a terrible, ancient lesson being imparted to women here.

It is this: You are important, and what you can achieve is limitless, particularly if you look hot in a bathing suit.

The message is supposed to be hopelessly out of date, wiped away by the gender revolutions of the last 40 years or so. But "Danica Mania," which isn't so very different from the hubbub that followed Anna Kournikova during her meager but photogenic tennis career, is an indication that some things will never change.

The IRL is an organization in serious trouble. Its events, with the exception of the Indianapolis 500, have become so marginalized that it is the rare sports fan who could pick Dan Wheldon - the circuit's current biggest name - out of a lineup.

Even the Indy 500 had slipped in the television ratings behind whatever NASCAR put up against it. Until this year, that is, when ratings jumped 40 percent.

This year, Patrick was the story, and if she wasn't the story, the shilling TV commentators and the advertising demons were going to make her the story. At some point of the race broadcast, Patrick was compared to Amelia Earhart, with little doubt that Earhart was the lucky one to be included in the comparison.

And, meanwhile, Sorenstam whacks the ball down the fairway, walks after it, whacks it again, wins nearly every tournament, and is generally taken for granted.

Annika and Danica. One is old hat, while the other, so to speak, is new halter top.

This is all predictable, of course, but it isn't fair, it doesn't say much for real equality, and it points out that while you may have come a long way, baby, don't forget to bring the high heels with you.

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