- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

John McEnroe, in borrowing a page from the Bobby Riggs playbook, has picked a fight with the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.

McEnroe, pontificating in the New Yorker, says "any good male college player could beat the Williams sisters, and so could any man on the senior tour."

McEnroe might as well claim the sun rises from the east, the earth is round and the ground can't cause a fumble.

Men hold all the testosterone-fueled athletic cards on women, as the pseudo-women from the old East German state used to demonstrate in the Olympics.

Men vs. women in athletic competition is not really the point, although women sometimes try to make the point.

"They're better than you," the WNBA says, meaning the male gym rats around the country who belittle the league's lack of quality while insisting they could do better.

As if to paraphrase Casey Stengel, the male gym rats sometimes ask, "Can females, other than Cynthia Cooper, play this game?"

The question is not intended to be chauvinistic, although that is the usual charge, dispensed to trivialize the blatantly obvious.

Bad basketball is not gender-specific. It just happens to be endemic to the WNBA, dependent as it is on a modest feeder system. The college women's game is subverted by an abundance of coaching fossils and an absence of female gym rats.

Marion Jones, a wise woman who put basketball on hold, is likely to be the leading figure in red, white and blue later this month at the Sydney Games. Her gender is incidental to the hype, largely because her athletic excellence is special, beyond the reach of all but a few men in the world.

Quality is the point with Jones and in women's sports, and it is a point that often gets lost as the two genders draw their imaginary lines outside America's playpens.

The lines, the dismissive rhetoric and misplaced agendas are absent within the respective genders as each advances up the sports pyramid.

No one compares high school football to college football, or college football to the NFL, because the profound physiological differences between a 16-year-old boy and a 21-year-old man are understood.

The differences do not undermine the worthiness of high school football. A high school football game can be as appealing and exciting as a professional football game, as long as the participants exhibit a certain mastery and knowledge of the game.

Women are not all the way there yet, at least not in sufficient numbers, and even at the U.S. Open, where the women rule this year, the early-round women's matches involving the top seeds and the riffraff might as well be held on the other side of the tracks at Shea Stadium. These matches are mere formalities, so shallow is the women's depth.

The quality among the top seeds, apart from the Williams sisters, is questionable as well.

Lindsay Davenport is a statue whose pulse rate at least serves to keep away the pigeons, Monica Seles has eaten her way out of serious title contention, Anna Kournikova is a pretty face who can't serve, Jennifer Capriati is the ex-prodigy, ex-druggie and future Jenny Craig spokeswoman, and Martina Hingis is only as strong as her relationship with her mother.

No such obvious shortcomings exist on the men's side. The men's Darwinian-like struggle does not permit it, not even in the early rounds, as Andre Agassi can attest.

McEnroe is a recovering tennis brat who has the capacity to exchange verbal volleys with the best. In this case, unless he is looking to be a parody, he is off the mark, the comparison trite, both silly and dull.

As Venus Williams says, "I don't know if I could fit him in my schedule right now. I'm actually booked until April. Other than that, if he thinks that's the way to think… ."

High-energy competition is the essence of sports, the stuff that feeds the passion, regardless of gender and playing level.

You know it when you see it, whether it is women's tennis or the men's Final Four, or just another NBA game in February involving the Clippers.

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