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Be loud and be proud

There's nothing wrong with a little noise on the tennis courts.

July 02, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

At this year's Wimbledon, there has been much ado about grunting.

What a sport, tennis. If it gets any more fussy, it will technically become a parlor game -- a sweaty contest of charades, drinks 'round the piano. Tennis may be the only sport where the players make more noise than the fans.

So to me, the solution is obvious: Make grunting mandatory. Put controversy aside and make it a law that Wimbledon players have to emit some obnoxious sound with every shot. They could scream. They could belch. They could yodel. They could moo. As long as they say something.

Most of the time, I am pursuing a quieter, more lucid world. But not when it comes to athletics. In sports, silence disturbs me. A quiet dugout is a losing dugout. A team without a few mouthy wise guys is doomed to fail.

"I mean, I could [stop grunting], but, you know, it won't feel natural, because it feels like something is missing in my game if I just stop," says Michelle Larcher de Brito, who, at 16, hollers as if breaking bricks with her knuckles.

You grunt, girl.

Here, according to London's Daily Mail (which is a newspaper, not a postal letter, though it frequently reads like a shopping list) are the top primal screamers in women's tennis, active and retired:

* Maria Sharapova, 101 decibels

* Monica Seles, 93.2 decibels

* Serena Williams, 88.9 decibels

* Lindsay Davenport, 88 decibels

* Venus Williams, 85 decibels

* Victoria Azarenka, 83.5 decibels.

That's a lot of good, healthy noise. When I'm named commissioner, such lists will be rendered weekly. At the end of the season, they will select an all-grunting team. The No. 1 grunter will be awarded a large, gold-plated tongue. A guest appearance on Kimmel. Or, in extreme cases -- and these are all extreme cases -- a few meds.

For comparison's sake, a lion's roar is 110 decibels. The barfing sound I make while bending over to tie my running shoes? About 105.

There's this guy at my gym who has a roaring conniption every time he puts down the free weights. It is pretty much the noise you would make if your abdomen exploded and squirrels jumped out. Arrrrumphhhhhhhhh-eeeeee.

Thing is, I love big mouths. It's what drew me to newspapers, those citadels of semi-formed opinion. It's what drew me to L.A., where loudmouths get tax breaks and free tickets to Dodgers games.

I find big mouths entertaining. Without big mouths, we would have no filibusters, no 5 o'clock newscasts, no courts. There would be no loud and obnoxious cocktail party banter.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, former tennis queen Chris Evert joined with other killjoys to complain about the grunting. This comes as the International Tennis Federation is making noises about banning noises. New proposals could force grunters to forfeit an entire match.

"Something eventually needs to be done," says Nick Bollettieri, a tennis academy guru who, oddly, coached some of the game's greatest grunters. (By the way, this is my favorite answer to all problems. When crises come up around the house -- broken pipes, bankruptcy -- that is my stock answer: "Something eventually needs to be done.")

Of course, these proponents of stiffer rules are insistent, as rules makers often are. They say that grunting can give a player an advantage by unsettling an opponent and masking the sound of the ball on the racket. Some fans don't like it either. They believe female athletes should purr, not grunt.

One thing I've never understood is why women grunt more than men. My therapist, Dr. Chastity, is always trying to convince me that women tend to be more vocal than men. To that, I reply, "YEAH RIGHT, DOC. GET YOUR HAND OFF MY KNEE!"

That's another story for another courtroom. All I'm saying is that grunting is good. It conveys effort, intensity, torque. At the very least, it keeps me awake during matches. And frankly, the more laws we have to govern basic human behavior, the better. I've spent a lifetime in big crowds, and I'd also like something done about sweaty slobs in muscle shirts, no sleeves. Seriously, a guy could lose his lunch.

Till then, here's a final thought (or perhaps a first). The next time a tennis player grunts, the entire stadium ought to grunt right back at her.

Now, that would be healthy.


Erskine also writes "Man of the House" for Saturday's Home section.

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