The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, January 26, 2021
Time to change Margaret Court Arena's name — Interview: Institute for Sport & Social Justice CEO Delise O'Meally — Must-click women's tennis links
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Tennis Australia, Say Goodbye to Margaret Court Arena
Happy Tuesday, but more importantly to our Australia supporters, Happy Australia Day! First, a note from Five at The IX alum Ellen Perez, who is a must-follow on Instagram as she quarantines in Melbourne:
Every Australia Day, a number of citizens are awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia, the highest civilian honor possible. Among the 2021 honorees is 24-time singles Grand Slam champion Margaret Court, who has been under fire in the past for her homophobic and transphobic views, as well as the time she said she was impressed with the apartheid movement in South Africa.
Many Australians, including Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, are outraged. Writer and broadcaster Justin Smith, who penned an open letter of how Court contradicts the meaning behind the order, “eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or humanity at large.”
This is someone who went out of their way to criticize former player Casey Dellacqua in the press by saying that her child with partner Amanda has been “deprived of a father.” She said in 2017 how the WTA is “full of lesbians.” Last year, Tennis Australia honored Court, who is also a Pentecostal pastor, for the 50th anniversary of her 1970 Grand Slam run. They publicly disagreed with her views, but still make sure to include her in public events.
I’m hoping that this is the straw that will break Tennis Australia’s back and that they sever ties with the champion. Yes, she’s a legend of the sport, but the hatred she spews and endorses doesn’t reflect the country or the sport. She should be made an example and have her name removed from Margaret Court Arena. It’s been said by many in the game, including John McEnroe, Billie Jean King and Andy Murray.
Now, what should MCA be renamed? It’s actually pretty simple — Evonne Goolagong Arena. In fact, a change.org petition is nearing in on 50,000 signatures and Martina Navratilova suggested naming it that last year during Court’s celebration in a sign with McEnroe. Many Australians are behind the name change, with one Twitter poll receiving 5,363 votes and 95.3% in favor of the rebrand.
Evonne Goolagong Cawley is a former World No. 1 and Grand Slam champion and actually received the same honor as Court in 2018. She was the first Indigenous Australian to win a Grand Slam, helping pave the way for current No. 1 Ashleigh Barty. She was also the first mother to win a Grand Slam tournament in the Open Era. A trailblazer in her own right, she has dedicated her retirement to promoting the rights and health equity for Indigenous Australians.
MCA is a slap in the face to every LGBTQ+ tennis player and fan who steps inside Melbourne Park. We can’t rewrite history or ignore the achievements Margaret Court has made on the court, but we can create a narrative for the future that hatred has no space in tennis.
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This Week in Women’s Tennis
A third WTA 500 tournament has been added to the calendar: the Grampians Trophy from February 3-7. Only players who are in hard quarantine are eligible to participate in the event, which will feature 28 players and no doubles.
David Kane caught up with Elena Vesnina, who discussed her 2021 comeback plans and how her return was inspired by her daughter.
Victoria Azarenka announced a new project, a podcast titled Think About It, where she will talk to a variety of guests starting January 27th. It will be available via audio and visual format on the WTA and Tennis Channel platforms, as well as any podcast provider. For the full trailer, view here:
Paula Badosa announced she tested positive for COVID-19, but still slammed the quarantine guidelines in place to keep the player field and Melbourne healthy.
Dayana Yastremska, who flew to Melbourne in hopes of overturning her doping provisional ban, had her appeal application denied. She can appeal to the Court of Arbitration, but odds of playing the Australian Open appear slim.
The Buffalo Bills may have lost in the AFC Championship, but they had one fan cheering in Melbourne – Jessie Pegula, World No. 64 and daughter of team owners Terry and Kim.
Fantastic news from Carla Suarez Navarro. The Spaniard completed her chemotherapy treatment for her Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. We hope only good and healthy news moving forward.
The WTA Future Stars event may have been cancelled last year, but Europe and South Africa are beginning to plan out their qualifying events, expanding the current player field to over 25.
In unfortunate news, Laura Robson announced she had to go under the knife for a third hip surgery. She was frank and said that this surgery is to preserve longevity of the hip and her future in tennis is unknown. I sure hope this won’t end up being a case of what could’ve been.
Lizette Cabrera hopes to have a career-best Australian Open in memory of her childhood coach Wayne Hannah, and her father, Ronnie, who both passed away in the second half of 2020.
Venus Williams was in GOAT form at the 2017 Australian Open. Crossing my fingers for this Venus in a couple of weeks:
Former World No. 6 Chanda Rubin is honestly one of the best commentators in all of tennis and she sat down with the tennis.com podcast to discuss her career on the court and in the booth.
Former WTA CEO Larry Scott, who led the organization from 2003-2009, is leaving his role as Commissioner of the Pac-12 conference in June. Though he brought massive sponsorship dollars to the WTA, including a title agreement with Sony Ericsson, his days in the Pac-12 were mediocre, at best.
Tweet of the Week
Last week, I mentioned how Sloane Stephens lost both her grandmother and aunt to COVID-19 and had to be stuck in isolation following a positive test on her flight. Unfortunately, she announced she also lost her grandfather while in quarantine and shared this special moment minutes after her 2017 US Open victory:
Five at the IX: Delise O’Meally
Delise O’Meally is the CEO of the Institute for Sport & Social Justice who has over two decades of experience in athletics administration, including 17 with the NCAA. She also is an elected Executive Committee member for the International University Sports Federation (FISU). She played collegiate tennis at Morgan State University, where she was inducted in their Hall of Fame in 2016. She discusses her career, Title IX’s impact on her, Jamaican tennis and more. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter and find more on ISSJ on their website.
Joey: Can you give our readers a bit of background on your tennis and where it’s taken you throughout your career?
Delise: My journey in sport began in the early 1980s on an asphalt tennis court with a wire net in my hometown of Montego Bay, Jamaica. I started playing tennis at around age 13 during physical education classes at my high school (British school system) as another option to the traditional sport for girls at the time, which was netball. I quickly grew in the game and grew to love the game. Tennis was and to some extent still is an elite sport in Jamaica, however there was a generation of kids who learned the game somewhat organically through working as ball kids at the local tennis clubs and resorts. Some of those kids grew up and opened even more opportunity for others by dedicating their time and knowledge to teaching the game. My first coach, Paul Rose was one of those kids and he contributed significantly to the growth of junior tennis in Montego Bay and had a profound impact on junior girls’ tennis, which was nonexistent in the region. Through the years, tennis has opened many doors for me, both educationally and professionally. I had the opportunity to go to college on a tennis scholarship, and as a young immigrant to this country, that was a game changer. After I graduated college, I toyed with the idea of continuing to play, but quickly realized that the challenges ahead were insurmountable without strong financial backing. I decided instead to pursue a Master’s Degree and began working in intercollegiate athletics. While it was difficult to walk away from tennis competition, looking back, I credit some of my professional success to the opportunities I gained, and the lessons I learned on the tennis court.
I earned an MBA, and later a Juris Doctorate, and recently completed a Master’s in Sport Organization Management, through the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity program. I have worked in leadership roles in university sport nationally and internationally for more than 25 years, 17 of those years were spent at the NCAA national office. My work in international university sport has been particularly rewarding. I currently serve as the Secretary General of the United States International University Sports Federation (USIUSF), and I am the first woman in that role in the organization’s 50-year history. I’ve served as First Vice President of the Pan American University Sport Federation, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and in 2019 I was elected in Torino, Italy as the US representative on the Executive Committee of the International University Sport Federation (FISU) based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Some of my most memorable moments were during various World University Games, where I served as Head of Delegation for USA Team in Taipei City, and Deputy Head of Delegation during the Games in Kazan Russia, Gwangju, Korea and Almaty, Kazakhstan. My first exposure to the Games was of course, on the tennis court, competing for Jamaica in the 1993 World University Games in Buffalo, NY.
I now head up an organization that uses the power of sport for positive social change, focusing on issues around diversity and inclusion, gender violence prevention, leadership development and an end to human trafficking. Tennis has continued to be a constant in my life. Because of the way I learned the game, I’ve always tried to give back to others. Years ago, I taught in the NJTL program as well as the YES (Youth Education through Sport) program, a program that coincidentally I headed up at the NCAA many years later and over the years, I’ve done free tennis lessons in my various communities. When I moved to Florida, I found another way to serve the game as a member of the USTA Florida Board of Directors.
Joey: The IX is an obvious reference to Title IX. You’ve had your own collegiate career, but also have amassed many years on the business side of things. Can you talk about Title IX’s impact on you on and off of the court?
Delise: I consider myself a second generation beneficiary of Title IX. The law which of course was enacted in 1972, opened opportunities for girls and women in sport and continues to have significant impact especially on participation numbers. Now several generations in, we continue to see growth in participation, but on the professional side, we still fight for equity. In the college space, most university presidents and athletics directors are men. Since Title IX was passed, the number of female head coaches and female athletics directors has declined. Over the past decade, the percentage of female coaches of women’s teams has leveled off at around 40%, and since 1980s the percentage of female athletics directors has remained around 20%. Women hold approximately 23 percent of all NCAA head coaching, athletics director, and conference commissioner positions. Men on the other hand have gained many opportunities to coach female student-athletes, in 2015-16, men were head coaches of 59.8 percent of women’s teams. In contrast women have experienced meager increases in opportunities to coach men holding on 4.6 percent of head coaching positions for men’s teams. In addition, 95% of our sports media coverage in this country still focuses on men. Sports remain an arena of political struggle for women and for fairness in the United States and to compound the challenges, Title IX has been blamed when universities make financial decisions to cut men’s programs.
Olympic and other international competitions have proven immensely important to women’s sport at the youth and intercollegiate levels. When the media, sports fans and young boys and girls see female athletes like the Williams sisters, Osaka and others competing on the world stage; when our US Women’s Soccer team thrills audiences with their courage, their strength and competitive spirit, they inspire dreams, they demand respect, and they raise the status of women in our society. And they continue to weaken the false perception that women are unable or uninterested in sports or that their participation does anything but lift their personal and their communities’ perception of women as full citizens, entitled to the right to reach their human potential.
Joey: You’re the CEO of the Institute For Sport and Social Justice. 2020 was a massive year where athletes had enough of being told to “shut up and stick to your sport.” Where do you see the narrative/discussion of athletes and social justice entering not only a new year, but within the Joe Biden administration?
Delise: A few years ago, I gave a keynote address at the University of Georgia entitled, “We will not shut up and dribble.” This was of course the very clear statement made by LeBron James as he was criticized for speaking out on issues that mattered to him and people who look like him. This was a couple years after Colin Kaepernick first took a knee to protest racial injustice. In iconic moments in history, athletes have stood in support of a cause, or in opposition to injustice and oppression. Most of those expressions of protest were viewed negatively at the time, (think Tommie Smith and John Carlos, or even Muhammad Ali) but came to be respected as the years unfolded. Today we are seeing a significant increase in the impact and influence of athletes at all levels of the game. Much of this is due to the high level of engagement and immediacy of social media. The byproduct of this engagement is that athletes, especially at the elite levels, have the ability to influence the business community which then strikes at the funding source.
There is a growing recognition of the power of their voices, and their ability to have a positive impact on society. I watched the US Open this past summer and appreciated the very visible stance that Naomi Osaka took to ensure that our nation does not forget the names of people who lost their lives due to police brutality. The WNBA and the NBA also created the opportunity for their athletes to speak out on the issues that mattered most to them. As the nation transitions to a new administration, this trend will likely continue without what felt too many as a muzzling of their voices by the former administration. The key now is to ensure that people understand the power they have through communication, through social media, and they use that power for societal good. We’ve seen the toxic and dangerous result of misuse of that power.
Joey: You hail from Montego Bay, Jamaica. Jamaica isn’t much on the radar on the professional level, especially on the WTA side. What needs to be done to bring more champions or notoriety to the island when it comes to tennis?
Delise: Jamaica has amazing athletes as we’ve clearly seen in the track and field arena for decades. Usain Bolt may be the name that immediately comes to mind, but Jamaica has a rich heritage of elite athletes in this sport dating back to Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley and including Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, and Grace Jackson. The athletic talent pool is definitely there, and the reason for the success in track and field, is that it is embedded in school curriculum and therefore, talent can be identified at an early age and nurtured. Tennis suffers in Jamaica, much as it does here in the US, from a lack of broad diverse participation primarily because of cost associated with playing the game. It is an expensive sport, from equipment and court costs, coaching, and travel expenses and this limits the number of kids who get into the game and are able to stay in the game and compete at a high level.
Obviously, more national funding is needed, as well as developmental programs throughout the nation that can expose young people to the sport. In the past, most of the talent came from Kingston, Montego Bay or Ocho Rios, because this is where tennis courts were located. Today there may be more opportunities as high schools may have increased access to tennis courts, and there are more clubs, hotels and resorts throughout the island, but with limited public tennis courts, the opportunities are still uneven and limited. To really lift the level of tennis in Jamaica, the talent pool must be significantly larger and development dollars should be available for those showing promise.
Joey: You hold many titles, but you’re also a mom to twin daughters and coach them as well. Many working moms, especially in the sport industry, feel they can’t dedicate enough energy into one of the roles they hold. What is your best advice for them?
Delise: Life and work balance is definitely a challenge. There have been many times in my career where I felt significant burnout, trying to do and to be everything to everyone. Working moms in sport have a tougher road at times because of the rigid and unforgiving work schedules. Societally we are still functioning in this weird half way system where women are in the work force in much greater numbers but we are still considered the primary (and sometimes sole) caregivers in a family. That responsibility is still not shared equally. So as a result, the way a man/working dad may manage his work schedule will be different from the way a woman manages her schedule, and the opportunities that may accrue to him because of the “flexibility” he has, are not afforded to working moms. Another challenge we face is an internal one.
This notion of “imposter syndrome” where women, because we don’t have a long history in certain positions and limited female role models at certain levels, may question their right to be there. My first piece of advice is to know that you are enough, to know that the unique talents and skills you bring to the table are in most instances more than enough. Let go of feelings of inadequacy if those exist, as this creates negative energy. Second, prioritize those items that are most important to you, using the 80/20 Pareto principle, focus on the things that really matter, and be willing to let some things go. And finally take care of your mind, body and soul. Build your networks and reach out and connect with others, we can help each other through most things.
Bonus: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Delise?
Delise: Best advice was to understand the importance of relationship building especially in the sports world. Early in my career, I focused lot of attention on tasks, to the exclusion of developing relationships. I was great at my tasks but ultimately that does not pay dividends as you advance up the ladder. Don’t get me wrong, you must do well at your job, but key to future success is developing deep meaningful relationships in the industry. I heard this advice first from a long time mentor, Dr. Dennis Thomas, who is the Commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and it’s been reinforced many times since then.
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger me to speak up, to trust my instincts and to be courageous. There is a great song by a group called Little Mix entitled “Little Me” and the first time I heard it, the words really resonated with me because I was that girl.