The worst part of the BBC radio announcer’s takedown of the newly crowned Wimbledon women’s champ? He put his own ugly words in her father’s mouth.
Choosing French player Marion Bartoli’s moment of triumph to attack her non-blondness, John Inverdale showed true cowardice when he said: “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a [Maria] Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight.’”
He said this while Bartoli was rushing to the spectator’s box to her father, Dr. Walter Bartoli, who taught her to play. Dad later said, “I am not angry. She is my beautiful daughter. The relationship between Marion and me has always been unbelievable, so I don’t know what this reporter is talking about.”
And Marion Bartoli’s classy response? “It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry,” she said. “But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes. And to share this moment with my dad was absolutely amazing and I am so proud of it.
“I am sure I will be able to watch the DVD of the match and look at the picture of me when I am holding it [the trophy]. That is the most important thing to me.”
Bartoli also had the class to say that when her finals’ opponent Sabine Lisicki began to cry midway through the second set of their match, she wanted to “give her a hug.” But that didn’t prevent her from going in for the win.
All spoken like a genuine daddy’s girl.
As a member of the club, I could relate. Sometimes dad was the only one who understood, who took the time to tell the skinny girl with the black-framed glasses and her nose in a book that she was pretty – and pretty awesome – the image of the beloved mother who died when he was a boy. Since Serena Williams or another American didn’t have a chance, I became an immediate Bartoli fan, for her accomplishment and good sense on and off the court.
The backlash was swift for Inverdale, whose half-hearted explanation for his “clumsy” remarks didn’t quell the criticism from tennis fans who knew the years of hard work that had gone into Bartoli’s big day and from those who may not follow the game but know a sexist insult when they hear it.
The incoming BBC head of news and current affairs, James Harding, was asked this week at a Women in Journalism event in London if he felt there was a gender imbalance among announcers, with a disproportionate number of older men and lack of older women. He agreed and said he would take action.
Unfortunately, some men and, yes, women, will continue to judge a woman for looks over expertise in every profession, from politics to science to athletics, where muscles and sweat and hard work are valued only in men. While Bartoli had to share her championship headlines with controversy, men’s champ Andy Murray was spared such superficial treatment.
Bartoli, though, is in good company (see Olympic gymnastics champ Gabby Douglas, who won the gold but was chided because a hair may have been out of place during her back flip on the balance beam). In tennis, Serena Williams, another player with close ties to dad, is criticized as much as praised for her muscles and power.
For the record, all of these ladies look just fine to me, most of all because they do what they have to in order to realize their dreams.
Inverdale still has his job, though his comments show he still doesn’t get it and probably never will. Bartoli has surely made plenty of new fans, and she has the lasting image of her strong arms holding up the Wimbledon trophy. Looking at her smile, it’s clear she has made her daddy – and so many others — proud.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3