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Moment Has Arrived for Female Athletes

May 05, 1999|RANDY HARVEY

Chamique Holdsclaw, selected No. 1 in the WNBA draft Tuesday, hired a manager whose forte has been advancing the careers of fashion models.

He is not trying to turn her into the next Tyra Banks, any more than Pat Summitt would try to turn Banks into the next Chamique Holdsclaw.

But if Jack McCue reaches his marketing goals, Holdsclaw soon will be in a class by herself among female athletes and in a class with Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods among all athletes.

Which female athlete since perhaps Chris Evert has had a chance to enter that stratosphere?

This is a good time for female athletes.

You can't turn on the television without seeing a commercial featuring Mia Hamm, the star of the U.S. women's soccer team favored in the World Cup this summer in the United States.

Reebok is about to launch a major ad campaign with tennis' Venus Williams. Some company would be wise to do the same with track and field star Marion Jones before the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, said last week at the Women's Sports Foundation Summit '99 in Arlington, Va., that his network will focus more on women in Sydney than it did in Atlanta in 1996.

"Every second, every minute of every U.S. women's basketball, softball and soccer game will be seen in their entirety," he said. "This is a big change."


There are, however, issues still to be resolved for female athletes. Maybe it shouldn't be near the top of the list, but receiving a lot of media attention is the disparity between prize money for men and women in three of tennis' four Grand Slam tournaments.

Only the U.S. Open pays them the same.

With Wimbledon's announcement that it will pay the men's singles champion $728,000 and the women's champion $655,200, some female players have discussed a boycott, or, as Billie Jean King calls it, a "girl-cott." In a New York Times interview, she advised against it.

Traditionalists offer a number of arguments against equal pay.

One is that men and women do not do equal work. The men play best-of-five matches, compared with best of three for women. Another is that the men are better players.

But professional sports is also part of the entertainment industry, and, from that standpoint, the public today finds the women in tennis significantly more entertaining than the men.

In eight of the last nine Grand Slam tournaments, women have attracted higher television ratings than men. There is no sign that trend will change this year.

When men and women played in tournaments in March at Indian Wells, considerably more viewers watched the women's final between Serena Williams and Steffi Graf than the men's between Mark Philippoussis and Carlos Moya.

The result was the same later in the month in the Lipton tournament at Key Biscayne, Fla., where the men's finalists were Richard Krajicek and Sebastien Grosjean and the women's were the Williams sisters.

Even John McEnroe, hardly a feminist, said Tuesday that if the women are as popular they should earn as much money.

Who wants to argue with him?


"Hold on, hold on, hold on," trainer Bob Baffert pleaded as the horses ran down the stretch in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. . . .

With his three horses already out of the running, you might have expected him to lose interest. . . .

On the contrary, he was urging the horse owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis of Newport Beach to remain in the lead ahead of fast-charging Menifee. . . .

The horse was Charismatic, the 31-1 shot who held on. . . .

Baffert's only interest in the horse was that he likes the Lewises. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone within the racing industry who doesn't. . . .

The Lewises have some horses, including 1997 Derby winner Silver Charm, stabled with Baffert and some, including Charismatic, with Baffert's rival, Wayne Lukas. . . .

Both trainers can talk manure faster than their horses can produce it. But Baffert and Lukas keep their sniping at each other to a minimum because of their respect for the Lewises. . . .

Dave Taylor, the King general manager, is more interested than usual in the ongoing World Championships in Norway. He's expected to meet there with Finnish defender Aki Berg about returning to Los Angeles. . . .

Berg wasn't considered crucial to the Kings last season. But considering the disappointing play of some of their veteran defenders, his value has gone up. . . .

Bob Larsen is considering retiring as the UCLA men's track coach after this summer's NCAA championships. . . .

Speculation is that Art Venegas, who coaches Bruin throwers, would succeed Larsen if he left. . . .

In a press release issued last week, Callaway Golf criticized players who endorse clubs they don't carry in their bags. . . .

Although no players' names were mentioned, it was apparent that the release referred to Nick Faldo, Dudley Hart and Ted Tryba. . . .

Tryba carried an Orlimar bag this winter in the Nissan Open but didn't use that company's clubs when he broke the course record at Riviera with a 61. . . .

Nevertheless, you can bet the members at Riviera aren't talking much about it. They're too busy discussing the rumor that President Clinton will apply for membership when his Washington job runs out.


While wondering if we could keep the Cubans and send the Orioles to Havana, I was thinking: The Kings should hire Ted Nolan, Silverbulletday would be too fast for the colts in the Preakness, sorry Karl Malone but Tim Duncan is the most valuable player.

Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address:

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