Here at the Contrarian we would be lax in our duties if we ignored the sporting world. Our readers will recall that we took notice of Billy-Jean King, still crowing about her 1973 win over Bobby Riggs, a washed-up player old enough to be her father. We also noted that golfer Lorena Ochoa retired, at age 28, at the top of her game. Now tennis great Elena Dementieva is stepping down at the age of 29.
Elena has been tagged as the best player never to win a grand slam event, but she earned a victory that eluded some grand slam winners. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing she defeated Serena Williams, Vera Zvonareva, and Dinara Safina, all top-line players, on her way to the gold medal. Elena also won 16 singles titles and spent 328 weeks in the top ten rankings. In 2004, Elena was a runner-up at the French Open and the U.S. Open. She also won six doubles titles, including the WTA Championships in 2002. In a career of 13 years she earned nearly $14 million.
This great success, I should point out, owes nothing to Title IX, the federal gender-gap measure. Elena Dementieva achieved through talent, hard work, and dedication, not any favoritism or quota system. Mens tennis did not have to be cut back to make way for her, and my guess is that she would have easily trounced both Bobby Riggs and Billy-Jean King.
Why step down from the heights of ones profession? As it happens, Elena Dementieva is engaged to hockey player Maxim Afinogenov, and she wants to start a family. As we noted, Lorena Ochoa retired from golf for similar reasons. In that pursuit, away from tennis, Elenas income will surely drop, just as it would for a female corporate executive or law professor who opted to step away for similar reasons.
The differential in her income, before and after tennis, will not be due to discrimination. It will be due entirely to her own priorities, as she sees them. Whatever one thinks of Elena leaving the professional tennis circuit, it is a decision she made on her own. It was not made on her behalf by the WTA, the Womens Tennis Association. That pattern is not true of a sports team just across the Bay from where I live.
The University of California at Berkeley mens baseball team dates back more than 100 years, to 1892. The team has won two national titles, including the first College World Series in 1947, but now the baseball squad is getting the axe. UC bosses claim its only part of cost-cutting moves, but something else is in play here.
As Jessica Gavora pointed out in Tilting the Playing Field, Title IX makes mens teams the primary target for cuts because of proportionality and the notion that men and women are undifferentiated. Since its enactment in 1972, some 400 mens college teams have been cut, most in sports such as wrestling, swimming, and gymnastics. Berkeley is also cutting the funding for their mens rugby team, the current national champion and winner of 25 national championships in 30 years.
The demise of the UC Berkeley baseball team, which has supplied players such as Jeff Kent to the professional ranks, was overshadowed by the San Francisco Giants World Series victory. It was also eclipsed by the recent election which sent many new members to Congress. Those new members should look to retire Title IX before more athletes suffer from this quota system.
In the meantime, I will miss Elena Dementieva, who in due course might well have prevailed at Wimbledon or some other grand slam event. Even in retirement, however, she set a good example for all. Work hard, make the best of your talent, and above all make your own decisions, according to your priorities, not ideology or government regulation.