I know this is going to sound hard to believe, but last week, the Women’s Tennis Association in Key Biscayne announced they are very likely going to pass a law which will ban “excessive grunting” on the women’s professional tennis circuit. They have had many complaints from fans who say the grunting by the women as they hit the ball bothers them. (It doesn’t bother me. I think it’s kind of nifty.)
The number one woman in the world does it. So does the woman in slot number two. When Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova meet in a final, as they did at this year’s Australian Open, it became the battle of the grunts. Azarenka won that battle last year.
The fans who are spurring the WTA on are not objecting to occasional or modest grunting. They are also not objecting to when the players reach for a ball in the corner and make a sort of “aaiiieee” sound when they whiff. And they are not objecting when a player grunts upon winning match point. That usually consists of just one grunt.
As you might imagine, this distinction, for the WTA, means that they have to get lawyers involved to define what “excessive grunting” is, and when specifically it is not allowed. Would grunting be allowed as the women change ends for example? All this will take time. It will take even more time because the WTA also has to consider where the existing grunters would fit into this rule. Asking a current day grunter to not grunt could throw the grunter off her game. That wouldn’t be fair. And so, the WTA has let it be known, reassuring those players, particularly #1 and #2, they would like to start curtailing the grunt at the junior level first. Only those new, young players coming onto the scene who grunt will be subject to the rule. The older guys will be grandfathered, uh, grandmothered in. Works for me.
Quite a number of complaints about the women who grunt are from either players or trainers who say that during practice, the grunters are silent. Grunt free. Obviously they can play without grunting. But this makes no sense. When a player is in practice, they work on their game, and take it sort of easy on themselves. And there’s no way to improve the grunts, anyway. And so, the grunting only gets out when these players crank up their game for when it counts. Or that’s how it seems to me.
This whole thing reminds me of the time, about 30 years ago, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association banned the slam dunk. The slam dunk had only been part of the game for the prior 10 years. And at that point, it seemed to be getting worse or more frequent—depending on your perspective—as the size of the players got taller and taller. Wouldn’t this be unfair to shorter players? Wouldn’t the smaller players just have to give up and go home? Well, the NCAA made their move, and the next year’s basketball games happened without the slam dunk, and just about everybody saw it as a wrong move. The slam dunk was so exciting. Now we had boring. Attendance dropped off. After two years of this, the suits at the NBA re-thunked the matter and brought it back. We’ve had it since, and it’s a good thing too.
Personally, as I said before, I LIKE the grunting at tennis matches. As it happens, it is pretty much confined to women’s tennis. Why? I’m not sure, but I have a theory. Men, on average, are more aggressive than women. The men get aggressive without the grunts. (The few men who do grunt seem to be subject to something like ridicule when they lose. You grunted and STILL couldn’t win? Even with that advantage? How humiliating.)
On the other hand, when a woman tennis grunter loses, people think, well she sure went all out, left nothing on the table. Just lost to a better player. But she was heroic in defeat.
From that perspective, what about the grandmothered grunters? What do we make of that? They can grunt, but nobody else can? Doesn’t that give them an advantage? For the next 10 years as they move through their brief careers, should they be handicapped?
I would be in favor of grunting for emphasis in all sports, except one, which I will get to at the end of this essay.
I think pitchers should be allowed to grunt. There’s that one moment of great effort as they fling the ball into the plate at 100 miles an hour. Grunting would help in my opinion, although doing it might interfere with their chewing tobacco.
I think a catcher, about to catch a throw and tag a runner heading for home plate should emit a loud lion-like roar as the runner rounds third. I think Jeter, picking up a hard grounder headed up the middle should let out an Eeeeeeeeyahhh! as he fires the ball to first. And I think in basketball when 3 point Knicks wizard Steve Novack, sets up outside the line and arches a pure swish, he should be permitted to raise his arms and shout Aaaaaaaaaah!
As for football, well, everybody grunts and growls as soon as the ball is hiked. No problem there. Football players, on getting hit immediately after catching a pass go Ooooooofff! There is nothing they can do to stop that. There is also grunting in rugby. And in hockey when a player is slammed into the wall. He goes “Nnnnnnnnn.”
The sport where they should ban grunting? Have you ever been to a cricket match? I don’t know the rules of the game and you don’t either, but we do know that if anybody says something, a referee gives them a little yellow flag.
That shuts them up.