Are money and glory in conflict in sports?
The experts will correct me, but from 100,000 to over 24 million, even over 44 years, represents an inflationary increase, if what you are counting is the dollar value of something. The something here is the total prize money at the U.S. Open Championships, which were inaugurated in 1968 at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens — still one of the world’s classiest tennis gems — and moved, in 1978, to Flushing Meadows in the same borough of Queens in the great city of New York.
The American tennis establishment likes to point out that the national championships began in 1881 and that the innovations of 1968 and after can be inscribed in the direct line of a venerable 19th century institution, the National Tennis Championships. It is a valid argument, but others, including many tennis writers who enjoy these kinds of debates, claim that you must fundamentally separate the pre-Open from the Open era, because so many factors changed the game as it became a mass-audience, money-making, highly organized event.
You can remain an agnostic on this issue and still make comparisons between then and now that may have some bearing on where we are as a society.
A hundred thousand dollars was a fair amount of money in 1968. It is about even with golf championship tournament money. Consider that in 1968, the winner of the U.S. Open Golf tournament, the legendary Lee Trevino, earned $30,000, rather more than the $25,000 the tennis champions earned in 1973, the first year pay parity was instituted in the men and women’s draws, in any tennis championship. This year Webb Simpson won about a million and a half for winning at golf, the same as Rory McIlroy last year. Mr. McIlroy’s sweetheart, the Danish superstar Caroline Wozniacki, will earn only $23,000 dollars for her participation, which ended in the first round, in the Tennis Championships. But I am sure they will share, because they are so happy together and make such an attractive couple. Miss Wozniacki, a former world No. 1 in the WTA rankings, has had a lackluster year and hurt her knee a week before the Open during a competition in New Haven. She was crushed by a young Romanian, Irina Bequ, who will meet Miss Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain in the second round and is thus guaranteed $37,000, win or lose.
Observe that pay parity is not a universally accepted norm. If we ever have a lady as president of the U.S., I expect she will receive the same tax-payer provided salary as the presidents of ancient times, all 45 (at least) of them. In the past you did not take this job to get rich, but now you can do pretty well, although in modern times (since the Open era, that is) only Mr. Clinton was not already rich, or at least comfortably well off by the inflationary self-regarding and entitled expectations of his generation. However, in sports parity remains something of a contentious issue, with the French Open, for example, having achieved it only in this century.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Gilles Simon, a French player who beat veteran American Michael Russell in a tough five-setter in the first round here the other day, made a clumsily phrased comment on this during the Roland-Garros tournament in June, bringing down upon himself the biting sarcasm of the eventual ladies’ champion at the event, Florida’s own (by way of Siberia) Maria Sharapova. She remarked that if you want to go by the market (which Mr. Simon protested was all he was doing, not by the sex, as in stronger or second), a lot more folks pay to watch her play, or Serena Williams, than pay to watch him.
Simon beat Taipei’s Own Jimmie Wang Thursday, and without making any cultural generalizations — a no-no in our openly politically correct era — it is a safe bet there were a ton of bets placed on that match on that brave little island a few miles off the Asian mainland, as well as quite a few neighborhood betting parlors right here in Queens. Players do not get extra cash from bookies in this sport, but it was at one time a practice widespread in boxing, as I learned from watching Miller’s Crossing several times and finally figuring out the plot. This is a fine film, very fine, and it is a safe bet (sic) that it did not gross as much moolah as Titanic, but such is the market, which still, despite all, is better than the alternative, which would produce state-sponsored cinema, effectively destroying what is still a great minor art.
But even under State-sponsorship, art — truth — survives. Consider for example The Cranes are Flying, or Ballad of a Soldier or such classics as Alexander Nevsky or Ivan the Terrible Parts One and Two. I am sure the same indomitable human spirit pierces through in sports. You fight on for the glory of the game and the thrill and the love of it all. After all, the slogan of the U.S. Open is, “It must be love.” There is a young American, Miss Mallory Burdette of California, a Stanford pre-med, who already has not made $67,000, due to maintaining her amateur status. She faces the Ice Queen in the third round and there will even more money not on the line if she beats her. But Miss Sharapova is playing very well, and appears determined to increase substantially the four million plus she already has earned this year. She is a enterprising young lady and she may well be right about whether you would rather watch her than Gilles Simon.
Usually, to be realistic, how much the spectacle is worth depends on the match-ups. The match Simon played against Brian Baker in Paris three months ago, wherein the Tennessean fought back from two sets down only to succumb in the fifth, was surely one to remember, more better according to some observers than the show Miss Sharapova put on in the final against Sara Errani, but that is a judgment call and the market overrules judgment calls.
You could argue that political competition too is on the Open principle. People make campaign contributions, encouraging pols to stand and run. Running, they attract Big Interests, who sponsor them, in effect, by raising larger and large contributions. In sports the fans pay for seats and cable TV, allowing the clubs or sports federations in individual sports to make money, which they share with competitors, encouraging them to compete.
As the value of the show rises with its renown and popularity, Big Sponsors become interested, as for example Emirates Airlines, which organizes a ranking system for play during the summer hard-court season (U.S. and Canada), giving you a chance to earn an extra mil if you win the Open. Novak Djokovic, who won the hard court series, thus has a big incentive, if money speaks to him, to defend the title he won last year by defeating Rafa Nadal, who is not competing this year due to knee problems. The Serb champion won his first round match easily and next meets Florida’s 18-year-old Dennis Novikov, who is competing in his first U.S. Open as a wild card.
One thing you can bet on, as we move into the third round at the last Grand Slam tennis championship of the year, is that American players are holding their own and then some. Andy Roddick announced his impending retirement, even as the older James Blake was advancing to the third round; and Venus Williams was battling into the night as we went to press. Our young talent is doing fine, as shown by the superb victories today (Thursday) of Sloane Stephens, Jack Sock (who crushed Flavio Cipolla in three sets and still had enough to team with Melanie Oudin to rally in mixed doubles), and so are our mid-career men, such as Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish (who showed grit as he fought back from a two-set hole to beat Kolya Davydenko in five), and so is the reigning empress of tennis, America’s own Serena Williams. Bank on it or bet on it, the U.S. Open proves once again that America, as always, is on the road back.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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H/T to National Review Online