I think the US Tennis Association (USTA) may need to begin channeling that famous ABC Sports tagline: "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." As I watched the new US Open champion, Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, struggle to say a few words in his native Spanish at his trophy presentation ceremony, I said to myself: something is not right here. Full disclosure: I have done some community relations work for the USTA in the past.
For those of you who missed it, Del Potro was understandably quite emotional after de-throning the #1-seeded Roger Federer, to win the 2009 US Open. Del Potro asked CBS Sports anchor Dick Enberg to be allowed to say something in Spanish. The first time Enberg responded by saying that there was no time. Today we learned in the New York Times that CBS and Enberg were obligated by the USTA's contract with corporate sponsor Lexus, to allow the Lexus rep to present the trophy while they were still on-air. You know, where's Univision or ESPN Deportes when you need them?
I don't know if Lexus sells cars in Argentina but I thought, that Lexus rep may have endeared herself to del Potro, Argentinians and Hispanics all over, if she had just grabbed the mike from Enberg and handed it to del Potro. Heck, she may have sold some more Lexus cars. I understand the USTA's and CBS's predicament, but honestly, if I had been in that situation, I WOULD have grabbed the mike from Enberg because it would have served everyone's purpose--including my company's. Hey, sometimes in sports, it's all about smart, snap thinking.
Look, I consider myself to be a corporate type and have negotiated many a sports sponsorship contract (from both the side of a corporate sponsor and the side of event organizer), but that ABC Sports line still resonates with me. In many ways sport is defined by emotion (think the Mexican soccer team playing the US team at Azteca Stadium), and when you don't let emotion trump everything else, you defeat the soul of sport.
The del Potro incident reminded me of a recent Miami Herald story about the USTA's efforts to reach out to Hispanics, and specifically, a quote from the USTA director of player development Patrick McEnroe. When asked why there is not a single US Hispanic player on the WTA or ATP Tour, he told the newspaper: "I wish I had the answer to that question." Imaginate. It's quite challenging when there are tapados calling the shots. When I read McEnroe's other comments about Latin Americans and US Hispanics, I concluded that he saw us as one and the same. Then I saw the del Potro incident. The USTA may just need some ayuda understanding the Latin corazon.
It's a shame that it's been 60 years since a US Hispanic (Mexican-American Pancho Gonzales) won a US Open. To its credit, the USTA has hired some Hispanics in its player development division but clearly, it can use some talent in its executive ranks. The USTA also had an court ceremony commemorating Gonzales' achievement (for the record, the US Open spelled Pancho's last name as "Gonzalez" in its press release).
But the sad thing is that the USTA may be overlooking some of that proverbial "low-hanging fruit," right in its own backyard. When the Yankees were constructing their new stadium in the Bronx, the nearby recreational center was negatively impacted. And who can we find in the Bronx? Hint: Obama found a wise Latina there. The White Plains, NY-based USTA could be doing more to develop urban Latinos in New York City, in Chicago, in Houston, in LA. Hey, maybe if they set their mind to it, they can find the next Charlie Villanueva of tennis (Villanueva is the Queens, NY-bred, Dominican NBA player who recently joined the Detroit Pistons).
Or maybe the USTA can find the next Mark Sanchez of tennis (Sanchez is the southern California-bred, Mexican-American quarterback who just had a spectacular debut with the NY Jets). On this Mexican Independence Day, that has a nice ring.