Letters

Readers respond to "Sports Person of the Year: Serena Williams" by King Kaufman.


Salon Staff
January 5, 2003 3:42AM (UTC)

[Read "Sports Person of the Year: Serena Williams" by King Kaufman.]

Mr. Kaufman will soon be inundated by e-mails from Lance Armstrong's Amen corner, demanding he retract the heresy that Serena Williams was a more important athlete in 2002. I will bite my tongue on this question, due to my ignorance of both Ms. Williams' achievement and her sport.

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However, I will call Kaufman out for perpetuating his ignorance on the subject of bike racing. He tacitly endorses the falsehood that bike racing, like competitive marathon, is settled entirely on the basis of fitness.

Going fast isn't just a function of pushing the pedals. Because of the speeds involved, a rider sitting in the slipstream of another rider expends 30-40 percent less energy. If you were the strongest bicycle racer in the world, it would still be impossible for you to win races just by pedaling fast; weaker riders would sit in your slipstream, wait for you to tire, and pull away at the finish line.

Drafting provides the basis for cycling's tactics and strategy. It is a way to use other riders' energy to one's own benefit; it's why cycling is a team sport. The strategic vocabulary of bicycle racing is at least as rich as that of football. And since more than two teams compete, temporary rivalries and alliances form during the course of a race.

Kaufman's dismissal is not only wrong, it is shamefully wrong. It betrays as much naiveté as the claim that boxing matches are settled entirely on the basis of who can punch harder, or that basketball players just put a ball through a hoop. It's a sentiment more worthy of a petulant high school band geek than a professional sportswriter.

-- Keith Adams

In his bile-soaked offering of Serena Williams as Sports Person of the Year, King Kaufman demonstrates yet again that "sports journalism" is an oxymoron, and that you don't have to know anything about either sports or journalism to put the title on your business card.

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Let's get one thing straight. "Riding a bike" -- in the way that a paunchy, sideburns-and-soul-patch Internet sportswriter understands it -- has as much to do with bike racing as beating your 5-year-old at "horse" has to do with sinking free throws down the stretch in an NBA Finals.

Real athletes like Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan have all publicly recognized the magnitude of what Lance Armstrong has accomplished. Too bad Kaufman's too hip to share in the fun.

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-- Brad DeVries

Serena's great and deserving and should win the award someday. But if your criterion for Sports Person of the Year is based on how much Americans care about the sport, the winner should come from football, golf, or NASCAR every friggin' year. No thanks.

Bike racing is one of those sports (like golf, I'd argue) that's incredibly boring to watch if you don't know anything about the finer points. The more you understand, though, the more interesting it gets.

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Asking Americans to spend some time on a sport with a bit of a learning curve is not a bad thing. The tactics involved in bike racing, particularly long stage races, make football and NASCAR look like the Neanderthal undertakings that they are.

One more thing. Lance didn't win because of his performance this year; he won because of his performance the last four years. Breaking Lemond's record for American wins in the Tour was just a convenient time to give it to him.

Serena's great -- if she can keep it going for four years, she'll deserve all of the awards she'll win. For now, give Lance his due.

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-- Ray Sachs

Bravo to King Kaufman! Serena Williams was the dominant force in sports this year and clearly deserves all accolades. Instead, Sports Illustrated went with the safe choice: a white, male cancer survivor.

Serena is brash, ballsy and reminds me of a great quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

-- Stacey Tardif

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Can you really be so dense? American TV and print media don't report on Lance Armstrong anymore because the fat, lazy, beer-swilling masses generally can't comprehend that there really are sports out there that don't require the use of a ball. Apparently you fall into that category.

Also, the list of athletes at the end of your piece leads me to believe you think only blacks are eligible for Sports Person of the Year. Maybe we need to start trying to attract younger black men and women to cycling, so that we can be recognized as a sport too.

-- Bob Cain

The fact that Tiger Woods has two Sports Person of the Year awards (which neither Mohammed Ali nor Michael Jordan can claim) refutes the idea that Armstrong was chosen over Serena Williams because he's white. Please don't make this about race. Would Mr. Armstrong be any more qualified for the award if he was black, or would Miss Williams be any less qualified if she was white?

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In the past, I think that Mr. Woods was chosen for the award, in part, for being a social phenomenon; i.e., dominating a game played mostly by rich white people. Mr. Armstrong is exactly that same type of phenomenon, except for cancer patients instead of a particular ethnic group.

Serena Williams is not yet there, and her winning three major tennis tournaments in one year, while a great achievement, is hardly unprecedented. The domination of their sports by Mr. Woods and Mr. Armstrong has been total and complete over several years, which is the main reason that they each won the award.

Miss Williams is still very young by athletic standards, and if she stays on top and wins the Grand Slam like Steffi Graf did, then she will probably be deserving of the award.

Mr. Armstrong won't win the Tour de France forever, but until someone else beats him, it should take something very, very special from another athlete to unseat him as Sports Person of the Year. A lycra catsuit on its own is just not enough compared to winning 2,100-mile races when you should be dead.

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-- Erik Ferguson

Let's see Serena get up and play tennis for 10 hours a day, at maximum effort, never putting her racket down, with no breaks between sets, eating and drinking while playing, in any sort of weather condition, in extremes of heat, cold and altitude, for three weeks.

Not that it could be that hard, since all she has to do is run around and hit a ball really hard, right?

-- Jennifer Lesch

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Where do you live that you've never heard a conversation about Armstrong? I've heard these conversations from bars in Allentown, Pa., to backwoods cabins in Michigan to SoHo. Men and women.

Whereas if I bring up seeing Serena play at the French Open, the response is, "So?"

Maybe Armstrong's awards have to do with his athleticism. Racing every day for three weeks is simply a higher level of endeavor than blowing serves past weak opponents 6-0, 6-1 every other weekend.

-- Dan Fahrbach

The Sports Person of the Year award is not a popularity contest. If it were only about honoring those who dominate a sport that is popular in the U.S., we'd be neglecting some of the most brave, inspiring and deserving athletes.

The Tour de France is widely held to be the most difficult sporting event in the world. To win it once is amazing, but to win it four times is nearly unimaginable.

Have you ever pedaled a bicycle more than 10 miles in one outing? Have you ever raced? Even sprinted? Joined a pace line and shared the workload with a team of cyclists? Consider that it takes a team, strategy and years of incredibly intense training to be the kind of athlete that Lance has become.

Have you experienced what it is like to ride your bicycle for hours up a grueling mountain, reach the top and race down the other side? Thousands of Americans just like me have. And even if there were only a dozen of us, it doesn't take away from what Lance has accomplished. He is an athlete beyond the sport. And clearly beyond your comprehension.

That your reasoning for choosing Serena Williams as Sports Person of the Year includes a guest shot on a sitcom, an appearance on "Oprah," and eye-popping outfits only drives home the message that you are not choosing an athlete, but a celebrity.

How can you possibly argue that she transcends the sport by glamming it up? Lance, on the other hand, overcomes cancer and goes on to win the Tour four times in a row -- and that's just a footnote to you?

You are clearly too busy watching force-fed, easy-to-digest sporting events to bother educating yourself.

Thanks for your opinion, Mr. Lowest Common Denominator. I agree that the award should not be limited by gender or race, and Serena is an amazing and deserving athlete, but I don't think you've argued her case well. Take the time next year to make your reasoning inspirational and profound. Serena deserves better.

-- Angie Van De Hey

King Kaufman's article is a classic example of the ignorance and arrogance of American sports commentators that is directly responsible for the dismissal of endurance sports like running and cycling as oddball, "European" sports. Given that this is by and large a country of spectators and not participants, it's easy to understand why sports like football and basketball are so popular and why their overpaid, egocentric players are worshipped.

The drama and emotion in endurance sports, which in the case of the Tour de France is played out over many days along thousands of miles of road, is more subtle and elusive than other sports that can be viewed from the bleachers or the comfort of your living room. And while the Tour, which celebrates its 100th year in 2003, may be a decidedly European event, American cycling fans have no shortage of events to witness on their home soil, even if ESPN's cameras aren't there.

Until then, my advice to Kaufman is to get off the couch, get a bike, and ride. Ride lots. Ride up hills. Ride until it hurts. And then ride some more. Join a local club and race. Maybe then he'll begin to understand why the Tour is such an incredible sporting event, and why Lance Armstrong may prove to be one of the finest athletes who ever lived.

-- Paul Sarkis


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