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Go Long: Four Summer Sport Thoughts (with takeaway)

August 4, 2010 – 5:25 AM

By Laura Pappano

Often in the blur of sports headlines – one breathless item launched into circulation after another – we don’t get a chance to reflect. Sport, after all, tells us about ourselves, individually and collectively. Here’s thinking about four recent items:

SERENA on SI: The buzz around Jon Wertheim’s cover story on Serena Williams is  all about his contention that she is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Sure, that’s provocative, BUT another Wertheim observation may have more real relevance: He noted that while Serena has been criticized for outside interests and not focusing enough on tennis (skipping tournaments, fashion interests) he offers that “Serena’s approach to scheduling and ‘outside interests’ made a lot of sense in retrospect.” Perhaps, he argues, this is why she’s going strong while many peers are burnt out or retired. The takeaway: Could doing a little less – whether for youth athletes or pros like Serena – be the key to physical and mental longevity? Is this how you stay good and keep the joy? BTW, good job, SI putting Serena on the cover caught in a real action shot.

The Prez at WNBA: When President Obama took daughter Sasha and a friend to the Washington Mystics vs. the Tulsa Shock last Sunday, he became the first sitting president to attend a WNBA game. Yes, it made a nice photo and wasn’t big news, but the symbolic value of POTUS bringing his daughter to see the women’s game was watershed. The takeaway: Women’s athletic events are as compelling and entertaining as men’s athletic events and having Obama in the front row made that potent point. And BTW, note that Mystics owner is Sheila Johnson. Yet another reminder that sport is political.

WPS Restructure: News that the WPS was de-centralizing and pushing more duties down to the team level is the move of a league trying to manage a tough and competitive economic reality that many sports teams face. Sure it was disruptive this season to have a team fold and now this. But credit the league for being nimble enough to change course — and it may not be all bad. The takeaway: One of WUSA’s problems was that teams were too interdependent financially. Perhaps more team control will build a stronger local identity and following. The challenge falls to the teams: Find those hometown boosters and build a compelling franchise.

Study Says: The passage of Title IX in 1972 created a natural data set that Betsey Stevenson at UPenn’s Wharton School has had a ball dissecting. The fact that all across the country schools started offering sports for girls and a generation of females suddenly started playing high school sports has allowed her – nearly 40 years later – to measure the effect. The takeway: Yes, sports do matter off the field. Results show Title IX responsible for a spike in women’s educational attainment, full-time employment – and entry into male-dominated fields like law and accounting. (Get study here; read Sunday thought piece in The Boston Globe).

Photo from WNBA.com

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