There's room for one more blog post at the end of a cluttered and busy week, and it falls outside the realm of politics... well, not quite, now that you mention it.
This is a sports post and not inherently a political one, but even a brief stroll through the landscape of tennis fandom has something to say about the way people approach any contentious subject.
As Rafael Nadal tries today to win the Wimbledon crown his injury ceded to Roger Federer in 2009, it's worth making a few points about these two champions and the way they're perceived by the public. A number of things need to be said, and a number of questions need to be asked, about the roots of support and opposition that have penetrated deep into the conversational topsoil whenever Mr. Federer and Mr. Nadal occupy center stage.
We all have our preferences as sports fans. It's a free country. Some fans gravitate to Federer's ice, others to Rafa's vibrant fire. Some women will respond to Fed's Swiss polish, many others to Rafa's Mallorcan flair. A Fed fan might be touched by the way Federer relates to his wife, Mirka, while Nadal fans might be stirred by the deep bond Rafa enjoys with the family and the neighborhood that hold him so close. On the court, the precise flourishes of an in-form Federer are wondrous for some, while Nadal's unceasing determination and energy rouse many other tennis souls to flights of ecstasy. Fed fans love how Roger set a new standard for tennis excellence; Rafa fans thoroughly appreciate the fact that someone else is stepping up to the plate and leveling a stern challenge to that very standard.
All of this is good and healthy and human and, one should add, quite necessary. We need differences to complement each other and lend fullness to the human experience. To be a sports fan - like a connoisseur of art - is to be one person out of many, one carrier of a unique set of tastes and preferences that will differ from the next guy or gal. All of this is good.
It's the unnecessary collection of distractions and tangents and friction points which detracts from the majesty and marvelousness of what the Federer-Nadal era should be.
Why is it that Federer's press conference - following his quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon on Wednesday - was somehow perceived by some as finally (or rarely) revealing Federer's humanity? Was this humanity not present before? When Federer failed to live up to (by a small margin, not the large margin I had originally perceived) the highest standards of conduct, why did that come across to some as being a welcome moment that somehow humanized Mr. Federer?
When Nadal asked for a medical time-out in his third-round win over Philipp Petzschner, why was that viewed as an act of dubious sportsmanship on Mr. Nadal's part, given that he missed Wimbledon in 2009 because of balky knees?
And here's the biggest question of all: Why is it that when an athlete receives either too much coverage or what is felt to be a misguided form of coverage in the press (coverage, it should be added, that he himself is not manipulating or orchestrating), the athlete becomes less attractive in the eyes of many fans?
Nadal suffers from this dynamic when his comments on injuries are referenced. The same thing applies to his five-set wins. It is true that there is at least some degree of a double standard in terms of the way Rafa's comments and on-court performances are treated in comparison with Federer. When the Swiss is pushed in a five-set escape, more alarm bells go off than is the case with Rafa. Mr. Nadal doesn't receive the "what's wrong?" chorus to the extent Federer does; I don't think that claim is tenuous.
You might be wondering: "How does NADAL suffer here?" He suffers in the realm of fan perception. Because of the media's double standard and because of the shadow (unnecessarily) cast by medical time-outs that have a legitimate basis in the reality of Rafa's frail knees, a number of fans come to like Rafa a bit less than they would otherwise.
Rest assured, though, Mr. Federer also gets scarred among tennis fans for similar reasons.
Whenever the media does a fawning piece on Fed, or brings an old classic Federer match into the discussion of a present-day battle unfolding live and in real time, a lot of groans are articulated on tennis message boards and blogs. Federer's pervasive media presence and frequent presence on a TV screen have created a (hyper-)saturation effect which makes Federer a turn-off for a number of tennis fans. Yet, I would dare to say that for both of these great champions and fine sportsmen (imperfect, but still very good over the long run of time), the media coverage - in its tone, tenor, content and quantity - substantially effect the extent to which the player is appreciated and admired by the tennis public.
Well, the Wimbledon final is four games underway. Time to shelve this post. I would simply like to get some in-depth feedback from a wide cross-section of tennis fans.
I leave you with this point: You can hate the media - often, you should - for what it does to try to bend perceptions of tennis stars and other athletes. Let's focus more on being critical of the media and not taking things out on the players themselves if they have nothing to do with the nature of the (wayward) media coverage being directed at them. On the other hand, if a great player and sportsman - no matter how sterling the reputation - does say something (or do something) to merit criticism, one shouldn't be afraid to acknowledge as much and, if need be, call that player (like Federer after his Wednesday press conference at Wimbledon) on the carpet.
Let the feedback flow once the Wimbledon final is over.