Wimbledon, the sacred summertime rite celebrating the best and brightest of the tennis world, is once again upon us. But an ominous shadow darkens the crisp white shorts of the world's oldest tennis tournament, a stain that threatens to compromise the very integrity of not only tennis and sports competitions in general, but of civilization itself: women making too much noise when they hit the ball. Yes, the tournament with a history that has spanned nearly 150 years is about to be ruined by loud ladies. Nice going, jerks.
At least that's according to Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, the organization behind Wimbledon. After Belarusian Victoria Azarenka hollered for a second and a half at 95 decibels during a match, he told the Telegraph that he'd like to see less grunting, that it was putting viewers off, that reducing the amount of grunting would be "helpful," and blaming grunting on a problem with education. Grunting's like poverty in that way, I suppose. You're raised without resources, without education, and what can you do but shout while you hit a tennis ball at Wimbledon?
Ritchie's ideas aren't new; for the better part of a decade, sports journalists and tennis officials have annually celebrated the traditional Lamentation O' The Lady Grunts. Let's examine a shortlist of women-grunting-during-tennis-related freakouts:
2001: Monica Seles, the Grandmatron of the Grunt, is lauded for her on court antics. The tennis world's love affair with the grunt, however, is short lived.
2005: "Why do women tennis stars grunt?" asked the BBC. Alan Mills comments that the grunting situation has reached Threat Level Midnight, but he lamented that he was powerless to stop the "noise pollution," comparing Maria Sharapova's on-court acoustics to an airplane landing.
2006: Maria Sharapova announces to a rapt audience that she will continue to grunt. In response, former tennis player John Newcombe said that her grunting was illegal.
2008: A 9-year-old Australian girl is banned from playing tennis for grunting too loudly
2009: More hand-wringing over grunting at the French Open.
2010: An article about Michelle Larcherde de Brito refers to her "screech" as "annoying," calling her time in the tournament the "high cathedral." Serena Williams, who defeated her, is lauded for being "quiet as a church mouse." Like a good girl!
Now that we've established that no one likes it when women make sounds, let's examine why, exactly, the ladygrunt is so offensive. What's been danced around for years, and what Ritchie can't seem to say is this: he's uncomfortable with tennis grunting because it's ladies doing it, and it's just too sexy. British monocle-foggingly, tea cup-droppingly, pants-adjustingly sexy.
Too damn bad.
Grunting may be distracting; as a spectator listening to Maria Sharapova hollering and carrying on during a match may cause wincing and unclean thoughts, but a true fan of the sport would want to see tennis played at the highest level it can be played. If grunting helps female athletes play their best (and research suggests that it does), then why should we restrict them? We've lauded male athletes for similar aural outbursts despite the fact that I'm sure some women find them distracting. But this isn't restricted to the tennis court. If you've ever spent any time in your gym's weight room, you'll know it's full of men making sounds like they're either screwing or pooing. This is accepted behavior. This is expected behavior. These are the sounds one makes when one exerts oneself. If I made sounds like that while doing bicep curls, I'd get the side eye and a carefully worded lecture from the gym's manager (and maybe a few people's phone numbers).
Long story short: Sports and physical activity encourage men to be vocal and women to be silent.
For the sake of argument, let's say that women grunting is indeed too distracting. Okay, let's eliminate the distracting elements of tennis! But while we're at it, let's streamline other sports too. Know what else is distracting? Baseball players adjusting their balls all the time. The NBA's collective horrible taste in tattoos. Ugly goalie helmets in hockey. The South American soccer hair situation (why the pageboys and sweatbands?! Are there no barbers south of the Tropic of Cancer?) Football pants. Percy Harvin's forearms. Corporate logos splashed all over every single golf tournament. Engine noises during NASCAR races. Giant horse dongs during the Kentucky Derby. All very distracting.
Of course, none of those changes will be implemented in any of these sports, nor should they be. The discomfort of the fans shouldn't determine the rules of play. Ian Ritchie and all the other complainers should suck it up and accept that sometimes women make noise, just as I was forced to accept Joakim Noah's hair.