These are basically quotes from coverage of the women’s Wimbledon final match between Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki. I have never seen the word quirky used so frequently and so transparently as code for weird.

Marion-Bartoli-v-Flipkens_2967859For example, USA Today’s headline, “Quirky Wimbledon Deserves Quirky Winner in Marion Bartoli.” This article proclaims that “quirky is too easy a word to describe” Bartoli, but:

sometimes the easy word is the best word. Bartoli looks like Luis Tiant when she serves, bounces around on her feet like Muhammad Ali before a title fight and takes practice cuts like she’s on-deck at the Home Run Derby. She’s had public fallouts with her father/coach, claims to have an IQ higher than Einstein’s and gives interviews that are actually insightful, a rarity in the modern tennis game.

Other writers (like in The Guardian) use eccentric and/or unorthodox. “She’s a woman unlike any other,” Chris Fowler said uncomfortably on ESPN after her win today. Others call her Marion the Contrarian or openly mock her oddness, like Sports Illustrated.

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The quirkiness, according to received wisdom, is thoroughgoing. Her doctor-father taught himself to play tennis by reading every book he could find; he taught Marion. Her training includes boxing, far afield from typical tennis stars’. She uses two hands for both forehand and backhand. She moves without grace; when she beat Kirsten Flipkens in the semifinal, she dropped into the awkward position you see above. Even the generous Chris Evert frequently describes her as “not a natural athlete.”

I admit, I don’t quite know how she serves (she has an excellent serve) — her serving arm stretches straight back from her body in a way that exaggerates her physical awkwardness. The commentators seem to see her as an embarrassing quirk of the women’s game.

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Unlike her opponent Sabine Lisicki, the smiling, large-eyed, blonde girl (who, ahem, cried during the match when things went badly), Bartoli doesn’t girl it up on the court. Instead she pumps her fist after every won point, never cracking a smile or dropping the slightly dour look to prettify herself for tennis audiences looking for smiling blonde girls. There’s no makeup, unlike the heavily applied eyes of Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska.

Marion Bartoli

Bartoli’s body also sets her apart from virtually all the top players aside from Serena Williams. Shorter than many (she’s 5’7″), while also bigger/stockier, she doesn’t cover up the roll of belly fat around the middle.

The news that she tested at genius level as a child has not missed the commentators. “She’s very smart,” they often say with considerable skepticism. Alternately, they note that her IQ has been claimed but never proven.

One keeps waiting for someone to point out that she hasn’t bothered to shave very carefully.

marion-bartoli2_2608816bYou know what? Thank heavens we have major athletes like Bartoli who show that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for success. Why aren’t we having a conversation about how great it is that a normal-looking woman — at age 28 — who “isn’t a natural athlete” has won Wimbledon? Isn’t this the best possible inspiration for all of us?

I say it again: our culture has such issues with female athletes who sit outside the “norm” — a norm that seems to be defined by beach volleyball players. Get over it, folks.

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anigif_enhanced-buzz-1977-1369859294-34Living under a rock? Then perhaps you haven’t read Kate Fagan’s great profile of Brittney Griner in ESPN-W and ESPN The Magazine in which she says so many awesome things that I have a crush all over again.

Too busy to read? Take a look at Buzzfeed’s piece, “13 Moments Brittney Griner Stole Our Hearts in Her ESPN Profile.”

Wish my school had enough money to bring her here to speak.

The photos don’t hurt, either. No they do not.

otl_griner_02_1600The only distressing part of the profile was the recent behavior of Kim Mulkey, Griner’s old coach at Baylor. I can rationalize but not excuse that behavior. And I’m disappointed because I find Mulkey to be a interesting gender case all her own. Oh well — a girl’s gotta live with the contract she signed with a conservative university. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Women’s basketball phenomenon Brittney Griner has been an out lesbian since her freshman year in high school, but most fans only learned about it after an interview she did last month with Sports Illustrated. Turns out that’s because her university told her to be quiet about it.

Credit: Jeff Wilson

2013-04-15-brittney-griner-3_4_r537_c0-0-534-712She now chalks it up to recruiting — coaches told her that parents wouldn’t let their kids come to Baylor if it appeared this private, religious, conservative university condoned the gay, as she explains in an interview with ESPN.

Because Baylor, which has “affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm,” explains in its sexual misconduct rules that “Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching” and that the university will “strive to deal in a constructive and redemptive manner with all who fail to live up to this high standard.”

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Which raises a few interesting questions. First, did anyone at the university ever tell Griner she had “failed” to adhere to their rules for sexual conduct, and seek to “deal” with her? Second, did the university set those standards aside in Griner’s case — because she was, after all, leading the women’s basketball team to glory — but not in the case of other LGBTQ students who, like Griner, are gay in plain sight? And finally, will the public acknowledgment of Griner’s out identity change the anti-gay culture at Baylor, given that people will ask these questions?

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For four years now I’ve been a old-fashioned fangirl for Brittney Griner, the basketball standout at Baylor University. And this year I have something kind of amazing to hope for: that she might beat the all-time women’s college basketball scoring record, which has been locked up for twelve years. Griner’s currently holding at #2 as Baylor makes its way through the women’s college basketball version of March madness. If Baylor keeps winning, and if Griner keeps having these amazing scoring nights, she might just beat it.

In 2001 the amazing Jackie Stiles of Southwest Missouri State finished her senior year with a grand total of 3,393 points — blowing away the previous record (Patricia Hoskins of Mississippi Valley State, who had ended her senior year with 3,122 points twelve years earlier). Stiles’ record is all the more impressive because she was a full foot shorter than Griner — at 5’8″, Stiles is the shortest of the 8 women to score over 3,000 points in their college careers.

Brittney GrinerFor Griner to beat Stiles’ record is almost impossible: she needs to score 157 more points, and at best Baylor has only 5 more games left in the tournament. That works out to, on average, about 31 points per game. Whew — 31 points per game. Criminey.

Almost impossible. Or is it?

Don’t you want to know whether she can do it? I do.

So why dontcha watch with me? Baylor is matched up tonight against #8 Florida State — 10pm EST. Let’s follow this one into history.

[By the way: a previous version of this post got the numbers wrong (hey, I wasn’t a math major) — I had thought she had only 4 more games, and hence had to score 40 points per. Correction made!]

Those of you who’ve been following my Griner obsession know that one of the things I find most fascinating is the way she up-ends typical gender expectations. Like when she won the ESPN Female Athlete of the Year award and wore that awesome suit. Or when I wrote about the crazy list of search terms people used to find stories about her on this blog.

(I still get those crazy searches, BTW — every single day. But lately I’ve been extra pleased to see that people are misspelling her last name slightly — they’ve been calling her Brittney Grinder. Which gives me no end of happiness to think that they’re also ending up at Grindr, and that they’re getting a little bit of an education in social networking. [Happy.]

Oh yeah, and this:

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I can count on one hand the things I miss about Texas, but oh, what I wouldn’t give to be sitting in the stands to watch Brittney Griner open up a can o’ whoop-ass on her opponents.

Did you see Baylor beat UConn last night? Griner scored her 3,000th career point, placing her in an elite group of only 8 powerhouse women’s basketball stars in history to score so many.

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I’ve been marveling at the wonder of Brittney Griner since her first year. At 6’8″ and now in her senior year,  Griner and her amazing teammates — with the god-like names of Brooklyn Pope, Destiny Williams, and Odyssey Sims — barely face any competition anymore. They’ve had a grand total of two serious games this year; and they lost the first one to Stanford back in November, a loss that stunned me and has made them a better team.

All the more reason why this highly-hyped matchup made me shiver with excitement even before it began. Last night when the back-to-#1 Bears faced #3 UConn (long a powerhouse of women’s basketball), they started out alarmingly slow and were close, but still trailing, at the half. Griner had only 4 points at halftime — 4! for a woman who averages 19 per game! — but scored 21 additional points in the second half, crumbling the UConn defense.

So I’m looking at this list of 3,000-point stars and doing the math. Could Brittney move into 2nd place by the end of her senior-year season? (Could she even top Jackie Stiles, who scored 3,393?)

 

Ilona Slupianek in 1977, shortly before she was suspended for using anabolic steroids.

Ilona Slupianek in 1977, shortly before she was suspended for using anabolic steroids.

When I was a kid, watching the Olympics held a weird fascination/vexation due to the question of doping. I was quite young, yet I don’t think anyone questioned the fact that some of those scary, huge Soviet bloc women were doping. Not just because some of them had been caught and suspended, but because their bodies were just so improbable. Am I misremembering? Or did, in fact, doping appear as part of ordinary conversations at the time?

Second question: did anyone assume, naturally, that Western athletes would also engage in doping as part of an athletic arms race to keep up with the communist threat?

Or did U.S. nationalism entail such blindness that we insisted our athletes would never cheat?

603324_10100712781447188_1046257414_nNot long into the BCS National Championship game between the University of Alabama and Notre Dame the camera cut to a view of the stands, where the Alabama quarterback’s girlfriend was standing with his family. Katherine Webb is a very pretty girl, obviously. She is Miss Alabama. “You quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women,” commentator Brent Musberger said. And the camera just kept lingering lasciviously.

The camera lingered on Webb long enough to creep all of us out, and Musberger took just way too much time telling viewers to go out and practice their throws (to get good-looking women like this) — all so much that audiences audibly gagged and ESPN offered an apology.

But that doesn’t stop the Post from doubling down on the creep, does it? Even as it also reports another athlete’s alleged sexual assault. And rape culture continues.