What good timing.
That thought flashed by means of my thoughts as I sat courtside at Arthur Ashe Stadium final week, watching Coco Gauff poleax the backhand passing shot that sealed the U.S. Open and her first Grand Slam title.
My ideas had been as a lot concerning the in-sync manner Gauff struck that final ball as how the second had lined up for this column.
Gauff — a sensation now at 19, a lot as Venus and Serena Williams had been on the similar age — stepped nearer to her future. With a serious championship in hand, she is able to be a pacesetter on the ladies’s tennis tour and one of many guardians of the brand new period of feminine empowerment in sports activities.
Her starting supplied an ideal ending for me. The Open was the final occasion I’ll cowl because the Sports of The Times columnist. I’m shifting to our National desk, the place I’ll write function tales about America’s marvel, complexity, bother and promise.
How good that the U.S. Open helped decrease the curtain, with a ladies’s sport offering the match’s apex second: Gauff’s three-set win over Aryna Sabalenka overshadowed an anticlimactic males’s last by which Novak Djokovic took his twenty fourth main title with a straight-sets win over Daniil Medvedev. For me, ladies have been the story, and never simply on the U.S. Open.
I took on this column within the late summer season of 2020. The worst days of the pandemic can appear a hazy reminiscence now, caught at the back of our collective consciousness, as painful moments typically are. Much of the sports activities world was shuttered and scrambling to determine methods to get again to competitors amid the lack of so many lives. Who knew when the rampaging virus can be tamed?
At the identical time, the ever-present inheritance of racism roiled the nation after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — each by the hands of police — and the brutal killing of a jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, by white racists.
Remember the athletes — well-known professionals and little-known amateurs within the United States and globally — and the way they spoke out and led.
And do not forget that Donald Trump was president then, spewing barbs at them, significantly at Black athletes who raised their voices or protested by having the temerity to kneel, exercising their proper of peaceable protest in the course of the enjoying of the nationwide anthem.
I wrote about all this and rather more, and I attempted to take action in a manner that confirmed I used to be not within the form of shouting matches that pervade a lot of sports activities journalism. I aimed to write down thoughtfully about how sports activities and athletes intersect with the social points that stir and vex our tradition. I sought to be a powerful voice on this house, and so as to add to the combo pinch of storytelling and the occasional piece spiced with a bit of cheeky enjoyable. More than something, I sought to reside out probably the most tried-and-true of journalistic credos: consolation the bothered and afflict the comfy — or, in my parlance, battle for the outsiders and the outliers, the unseen and the neglected.
Which brings me again to a topic I thought-about typically right here, one embodied by Gauff hitting that backhand passing shot and strolling off with a Grand Slam title and a winner’s examine for $3 million: the rise of ladies in sports activities.
Think of all we have now witnessed on this area during the last three years.
Think of the W.N.B.A., the league’s main position within the protests of 2020, and its continued energy as an amalgamation of ladies who aren’t afraid to problem the established order.
Think of the profitable battle by the U.S. ladies’s nationwide soccer staff for equal pay, or how feminine soccer gamers throughout the globe and within the N.W.S.L. stood up towards harassing, abusive coaches.
Did you see that volleyball sport on the University of Nebraska, with 92,000 followers within the stands? Or all these record-breaking, packed-to-the-gills stadiums on the Women’s World Cup, with 75,000 available for the current last in Australia?
Yep, it’s a brand new period.
Consider March Madness 2023. This was a yr when the lads’s occasion sat within the shadow of the ladies’s facet — with its upsets, pressure and high quality. With the charismatic Angel Reese main Louisiana State over Iowa for the nationwide title. With Reese, daring and Black, sparking a dialog on race by taunting her white opponent, Caitlin Clark, the sharpshooting participant of the yr.
Yes, on the courtroom, observe, area or wherever they compete, ladies will be as difficult, ornery, aggressive and controversial as males. That must be celebrated.
Where will this finish? With a couple of exceptions, tennis being one, it’s onerous to think about ladies’s sports activities getting the form of consideration they deserve any time quickly.
Who will get probably the most cash, discover and hosannas in youth sports activities? By and enormous, boys.
Who runs most groups and controls most media that broadcast and write concerning the video games? By and enormous, males.
Who runs the businesses that present the sponsorship cash? Yeah, primarily males.
Change is coming. But change will take extra time. Maybe a couple of generations extra.
The decks stay stacked in favor of men, however ladies proceed their battle. When it involves the video games we play and love to look at, that’s the most important story in sports activities proper now.
How good that this yr’s U.S. Open would body that story as soon as once more. Flushing Meadows was a two-week gala celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Billie Jean King’s profitable push for equal prize cash on the occasion — a landmark in sports activities that also stands out for its boldness.
And how becoming that on this golden anniversary — with Serena Williams now retired, with Billie Jean entrance and middle throughout tributes all match lengthy — Gauff would win her first Grand Slam occasion and do it by flashing the form of poise that marks her as an inheritor to the throne.
Thank you, Coco and Serena. Thank you, Billie Jean, and all the opposite feminine and male athletes who’ve gone towards the established order, emerged victorious, and are nonetheless within the battle.
And thanks for following alongside as I’ve tried to face for the outsiders and make sense of all of it.