In the beginning, Billie Jean King thought Arthur Ashe to be "pretty chauvinistic," but as time wore on, the two tennis greats who often shared a broadcast booth at Wimbledon for HBO found a rapprochement that warmed into a solid and lasting friendship.
And so, it's somehow fitting that King is this year's recipient of an award for courage named for Ashe that will be presented Monday night at the ESPY Awards.
"This award belongs to every human being who, in the arena of everyday life, tries to stand up and do the right thing, even when it's difficult," King said on a conference call. "Arthur told me that the hardest thing for him was to be a black man, and I understand what he meant, being a woman. It's not fun to be discounted by race or gender or sexual orientation."
Along that theme, King had some trenchant commentary on recent media coverage of Amelie Mauresmo, the 29th-ranked woman in the world who reached the finals of the Australian Open two weeks ago.
The tournament was largely ignored in the United States in part because of Super Bowl hype and also because most of the matches aired here either on tape or late at night.
Still, Mauresmo, 19, a Frenchwoman, touched off a swirl of controversy when she disclosed that she is a lesbian and introduced her 31-year-old companion to French writers.
After Mauresmo defeated top-seeded Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals, Davenport remarked at a news conference that at times "I thought I was playing a guy out there, the girl was hitting it so hard, so strong and I would look over there and she's so strong in the shoulders, those shoulders."
Davenport later apologized to Mauresmo for the firestorm her comments touched off and accused the Australian media of taking her remarks out of context.
Far less contrite was Martina Hingis, who beat Mauresmo for the title, but not before saying of her opponent: "She's here with her girlfriend, she's half a man," adding later, "Everyone makes her own choices, but you don't have to show it in everything you do. They are hugging and kissing each other all the time, and I'm just, 'OK, there is a limit.' Now, I think Mauresmo got her lesson."
King yesterday took the media to task for what she believes is a double standard, in that it scrutinizes female athletes on matters of sexuality and body image in a much harsher way than it does their male counterparts.
"What's happening is more a reflection on the writers and broadcasters than the people involved. People are homophobic. I don't understand the fascination with it," King said. "It's like Martina [Navratilova] says. No one ever says 'Joe Montana, the heterosexual quarterback, led the 49ers to a championship,' but they always say, 'Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player, won a championship.' You [the media] never ask the male players about their sexuality. I think it's inappropriate."
Making a move
In order to boost its "NFL Today" pre-game show, CBS has done some shifting and some good, old-fashioned pilfering, moving Craig James from the college football studio program and grabbing Jerry Glanville from Fox.
CBS Sports President Sean McManus said the moves should bring some life to what has been criticized as a moribund program.
"If we were criticized for anything, it was for that [lack of spark]," McManus said yesterday. "This goes a long way to solving that."
James, who came to CBS from ESPN in 1996, and Glanville, who has been a game analyst for Fox since the network began carrying NFL games in 1994, will, in effect, replace Brent Jones, George Seifert and Marcus Allen.
Seifert, the former San Francisco 49ers coach, returned to coaching with the Carolina Panthers, and Allen will remain with the "NFL Today" as a feature reporter. Jones may head to the booth, and McManus said Randy Cross, the network's No. 2 analyst, also will join the pre-game show if they can find an adequate replacement.
Glanville, who also appears on HBO's "Inside the NFL," may not come so cheaply. Fox officials maintain that the former Atlanta and Houston coach is still under contract to them. McManus said yesterday he believes that Glanville is free to join CBS.
Vince Wladika, a Fox spokesman, said, "We'll examine all our options, if necessary. I guess life will get interesting now."
All of this begs the question: Is Jerry Glanville worth all this?
Meanwhile, on the baseball side of the ledger, the way appears clear for the New York Yankees to introduce Tim McCarver next Tuesday as an analyst on a smattering of over-the-air games this season.
McCarver, widely acclaimed as the best baseball analyst in television -- that is, when Joe Morgan isn't working -- was unceremoniously dumped last week by the Mets, which, of course, made him immediately attractive to the Yankees. This new assignment will have no bearing on McCarver's work for Fox, and the holdup with the Yankees is believed to be over how many local telecasts he might miss for national games.
The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore from Feb. 3-9 (R-Rating; S-Share):
Event Day Ch. R/S
Pro Bowl Sun. 2 5.1/8
Lakers-Jazz Sun. 11 4.7/9
Figure skating Sat. 2 4.7/9
Maryland-UVa. Sat. 54 4.6/11
Heat-Knicks Sun. 11 4.3/10
Golf highlights Fri. 13 4.1/11
Figure skating Sat. 11 3.9/9
Skiing Sat. 11 3.4/7
UConn-Stanford Sat. 2 3.2/7
Bud Shootout Sun. 13 3.1/8
Pub Date: 2/11/99