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September 10, 2012 2:08 PM   Subscribe

16 year-old Taylor Townsend, currently the top ranked junior American tennis player, was recently bested by Anett Kontaveit in the quarter-finals of the US Open 2012, but won in the doubles tournament. However, she spent most of the week answering interview questions about her weight.

USTA coaches earlier in the summer told Townsend stop competing until she got into better shape. A controversy had ensued about whether or not Townsend's travel expenses would be paid for, if she chose not to lose some weight.

USTA director Patrick McEnroe says, "“It has nothing to do with weight; it has nothing to do with body type,” McEnroe said. “It has to do with overall fitness, over all what her game is.”

Taylor Townsend is 5-foot-6 and weights 170 pounds, her mother told ABC News.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (77 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
So they're not going to pay her expenses even though she won a doubles tournament because they think she's not in shape to compete effectively, even though she won the doubles and got to the quarter-finals in individual junior women's competition?

HELLO LOGIC PEOPLE
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:10 PM on September 10, 2012 [51 favorites]


She's a fatty (or, you know, very muscular) and so probably her fat just spilled all over the tennis court and her opponents slipped on it, but that's unlikely to happen again so she'll never win again because if you don't have a slim physique, you can't play tennis. Or something.

I can't see this doing well for the USTA.
posted by jeather at 2:15 PM on September 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


A female athlete who doesn't look like an underwear model? Something's going to have to be done about that. This is AMERICA, missy.

Why yes CC Sabathia does make twenty million dollars a year, why do you ask?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:17 PM on September 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


If she's competing at top levels with athletes who weigh less than she does, I can see her coach telling her privatelt "if you lose some weight, you'll probably win even more often." But USTA telling her she has to lose weight because.... what? She's competing at the top levels and yet.... her overall game isn't good enough? Smells like bullshit.
posted by chimaera at 2:17 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


"I would have been cut from the USTA program," Navratilova said.
posted by rtha at 2:18 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sure didn't stop Bobby Riggs.
posted by Sphinx at 2:19 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tennis media is strange, and women's tennis media is stranger still. It's more internationally focused and more personality/celebrity focused than most Americans are used to. If Anna Kournikova had played any other sport to the same level of her tennis accomplishments, we'd have never heard of her.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:24 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's really fucked up is that we're having a "national conversation" about a 16-year-old girl's weight.

I mean JFC.

Whatever. GOOD FOR HER! Haters stay pressed. Etc.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:24 PM on September 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


I hope she puts on 100 pounds and goes on to rank #1.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]



Kind of outrageous and also, IN YOUR FACE idiots who think that overweight people can't be athletic or fit.

Also, if she's super-muscular like I am 170 is a great weight for her.

So NEEAH!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


'We're trying to make decisions that we think are in the best interest of the player. Do you think we're sitting around going, 'How can we screw this up?'" McEnroe said.

Nope. But I could certainly imagine y'all sitting around going, "Oh shit! Middle-aged white men might not want to ogle her! And that would make it harder to sell them tennis crap!"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2012 [20 favorites]


Once again I click on a link about somebody who is overweight and once again I find myself scrolling up and down the page looking for a photo of an out of shape person to no avail. Do they mean the perfectly normal and attractive young lady playing Tennis in the photo at the top of the article? Because if they do, perhaps I need to recalibrate the screen on my Mac. She looks like a perfectly healthy athlete to me.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm getting a whiff of sexism with just a hint of racism underneath it. But surely that can't be, can it?
posted by tommasz at 2:35 PM on September 10, 2012 [32 favorites]


The old guard just couldn't shut up and let the kid play.

But I've heard stuff like this before. Chris Evert made Serena sound like she was a dull-witted meathead who got by on sheer brawn and criticized her for having interests outside of tennis. But Serena has a life and crushes the princesses they send against on the regular. So Evert learned to shut the eff up.

My ol' man always told me I'd have to be better than the 'regular' kids.

It's par for the course.
posted by black8 at 2:35 PM on September 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


Tennis media is strange, and women's tennis media is stranger still. It's more internationally focused and more personality/celebrity focused than most Americans are used to. If Anna Kournikova had played any other sport to the same level of her tennis accomplishments, we'd have never heard of her.

So we're clear, we're talking about the Anna Kournikova who was World #1 in Doubles?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:36 PM on September 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


Did USTA provide a metric for "in shape"/"out of shape"? They claim it's about fitness and not weight, so how did they come to their conclusion? What fitness test did she fail?
posted by rocket88 at 2:36 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because if they do, perhaps I need to recalibrate the screen on my Mac. She looks like a perfectly healthy athlete to me.

It's well known that Macs take off 10 lbs, while Win PCs add 10. Linux makes it look like everyone has a beard, even women and little children.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:38 PM on September 10, 2012 [38 favorites]


Please, is it get upset by every little thing day today?

Here are the facts, whether it's muscle or not, 170 pounds is way too high for her height and too high a corresponding BMI for an aerobic sport like singles tennis. Telling she won doubles, the less aerobic more skillful version of the singles game. The USTA is investing money in excellence, money they want repaid in wins when she's an adult. Clearly she's incredibly skillful, skillful enough to be proficient in spite of lugging a suitcase around with her when sprinted for the net to return a spinning drop shot.

For the record, Serena Williams (a player previously considered too "big" to be good is three inches taller and fifteen pounds lighter.)

Maybe the USTA can spend their money however they like. They can certainly pay for development of players they feel have the greatest chance at long term success.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:40 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


in spite of lugging a suitcase around with her

what.

can you link to that picture? I missed it.
posted by desjardins at 2:42 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


So we're clear, we're talking about the Anna Kournikova who was World #1 in Doubles?

Sure, but if she were plainer she mighta been singles champ, too.
posted by notyou at 2:45 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Please be cool and be clear that this is a touchy subject with which to play internet doctor. Make an effort to be clear that you are not trolling, everyone, from this point forward.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:46 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe the USTA can spend their money however they like.

Maybe that can stop being shitty to athletes they're supposed to be supporting and developing. It can't be the first time in the history of junior [sport] that the kid has been less than ideally fit for that sport. Is the best solution to embarrass them, or to figure out the best way (that is, the way that works best for the kid) to help them?
posted by rtha at 2:46 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is so beyond ridiculous. She's not even fat!

I saw evidence of the same thing in men's tennis at the US Open. Can't remember the player's name, but he was coming of injury and they showed a split screen image of him sitting with a small gut, compared to Djokovic.
posted by meta87 at 2:48 PM on September 10, 2012


For the record, Serena Williams (a player previously considered too "big" to be good is three inches taller and fifteen pounds lighter.)

Possibly this is an indication that the "too big to be good" guideline is not ironclad. Just sayin'.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:52 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


If Anna Kournikova had played any other sport to the same level of her tennis accomplishments, we'd have never heard of her.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:24 PM on September 10 [+] [!]


*cough*
posted by gyc at 2:53 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


She's 16; she's still growing into her adult body, as are her opponents. While she DOES need to make good fitness decisions going forward, she knows her own body and how it responds to the demands of her sport.

If she competes in the future and she wins, she can tell them all to go screw.

If she competes and she loses, and it becomes apparent that conditioning and mobility are reasons why, the "problem" will resolve itself; she will either improve in those areas or fade out of the limelight.
posted by delfin at 3:02 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


What fitness test did she fail?

Apparently, winning the doubles tournament and placing in the quarterfinals of the singles tournament is "failure" in USTA's eyes.

Are they only paying six people's expenses?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:11 PM on September 10, 2012


But that wasn't the reason reporters were practically spilling out of the interview booth where her post-match news conference was being held.

Really?
posted by scalefree at 3:12 PM on September 10, 2012


I'm getting a whiff of sexism with just a hint of racism underneath it. But surely that can't be, can it?

Considering male athletes are often criticized or written off by scouts and commentators because of their weight, I'd guess probably not?

For those people saying that since she's doing great at her level so the USTA should support her regardless: Dominating junior divisions is not the same as developing into an elite athlete. There's a reason the basketball players who are the best in college don't always get drafted first to the pros. Scouts look for skills and attributes that project well to the next level. Whether you can't hit a curveball, you're a little short, a little chubby or whatever, there are lots of things that you might be able to get away with as a junior that would get exposed in the pros.

There are exceptions, of course, and this young woman could very well be one of them. But from a developmental perspective (which is the only perspective the USTA should have) the simple fact is that carrying some extra weight is going to be a hindrance in developing into an elite tennis player. It doesn't mean she won't, but if an athlete wants to be subsidized by a national organization, male or female they should be doing everything possible to turn themselves into an elite athlete.

I know this story hits on a lot of racial/sexual/body image issues but it's also about sports and sports just aren't fair sometimes. My favorite baseball team decided a couple years ago to give up on a player who was doing well in the minors because they felt he was going to be too chubby to make it in the majors. Is this worse because she's a few years younger? I don't really see it.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 3:14 PM on September 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm so sick of this shit.
posted by New England Cultist at 3:17 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow... that Taylor Townsend is a big player who can really put it away!

Picky eater, though.

"C'mon Taylor, try a stick of butter. This is for international television!"
posted by markkraft at 3:24 PM on September 10, 2012


My favorite baseball team decided a couple years ago to give up on a player who was doing well in the minors because they felt he was going to be too chubby to make it in the majors.

Wait wait wait HOLD IT RIGHT THERE.

Your team was suggesting that said young player was too fat for baseball?

Seriously?
posted by delfin at 3:24 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes. The top ranked junior women's tennis player's physical condition is too poor to play tennis. This makes sense.
posted by Sternmeyer at 3:29 PM on September 10, 2012


Your team was suggesting that said young player was too fat for baseball?

Yes. Because they were concerned that the way he carried his weight would negatively affect his swing. Just because there are notable large baseball players doesn't mean that scouts don't put a lot of value on young players being in top shape.

I don't know tennis. This might be a terrible decision by the USTA. But it seems that a lot of people are calling it sexism and I just wanted to make the point that the same thing happens in lots of sports, to men and women. Developing young athletes is a tough business and not for the faint of heart.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 3:38 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there are two issues here. One is the USTA's choice or not to support her. They should take her long term developmental prospects into account, which her weight might effect. The fact that she's a highly ranked junior player doesn't mean that it won't. Ask any number of athletes who were highly ranked juniors, but couldn't flourish at the highest level. Hell, ask JeMarcus Russell, whose problem was precisely that he couldn't control his fitness/weight. In any event, that's between her and her trainers.

The other issue is the media coverage of the weight of a high school girl, which is gross. She should,if she wants to be a high level tennis player, work with her trainers to be the best she can be. That might mean losing weight, but it's not really our business either way.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:39 PM on September 10, 2012


So, the USTA hosts leagues and then the best players out of those leagues are then given support by the USTA in other events?
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2012


Athlete told to get in shape. This is news?
posted by karmiolz at 4:13 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Young athlete publicly called out about her weight, which is not the same as fitness, even though she won one event and placed in the quarter-finals at another. So, yeah, that's news.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:21 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


This may have been grossly mishandled by the USTA but in senior tennis if you can't be tall you've got to be mobile. It was ever thus.
posted by tigrefacile at 4:23 PM on September 10, 2012


The #1 ranked player being eliminated in the quarterfinals is a pretty damn disappointing performance. It's weird that people are discussing it as if she did well.

If you look at her record, it seems that she was doing great in late 2011 through spring, but has weakened considerably going into summer, doing no better than a quarterfinal round and only making it to the round of 16 at Wimbledon. There seem to be real performance issues here.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:36 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


We are becoming a world with of children athletes with eating disorders, doping habits, degenerative orthopedic disease, and simply no time to soak in being a child. A child that does not conform yet performs should be applauded. Sports needs all kinds of diversity, not just racially and gender based, but also by things such as body type and training type. Diversity attracts outliers to the sport and shows kids they can make it without conforming to bad habits that make you look good on TV.

A sports organization that ladles on a body image and weight issue for one of its top performers should have its officers and board fired for incompetence. They do not know how to promote their sport. It's time they had some undue pressure placed on their own narrow, chubby little shoulders.
posted by Muddler at 4:42 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


The other issue is the media coverage of the weight of a high school girl, which is gross.

This would have destroyed my self-esteem at her age (it shouldn't have, but it would have). This isn't the same thing as a grown-ass woman confronting weight gain or conditioning issues or whatever. This is a kid, whose body is probably still changing in fast and confounding ways. I know it's more complicated than "USTA is evil" and for all I know Townsend doesn't care, but I feel for her.
posted by sallybrown at 4:45 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know it's more complicated than "USTA is evil" and for all I know Townsend doesn't care, but I feel for her.

Yeah I agree. I especially don't like the appeal to "health" one USTA spokesperson used which is obvious bs. I wish this story hadn't hit the media at all for her sake.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:10 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


That dishonest appeal to "health" is one every overweight person is familiar with.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


So we're clear, we're talking about the Anna Kournikova who was World #1 in Doubles?

Quick, name literally any other person that is/was No. 1 in doubles.

If you can, you're either a fairly hard core tennis fan, you're naming someone primarily known for being a singles player, or you're lying.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:23 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Quick, name literally any other person that is/was No. 1 in doubles.


Bryan brothers? What do you mean?
posted by sweetkid at 5:41 PM on September 10, 2012


If she continues to win first place in matches then fine, but I don't see that happening if she doesn't make changes. So, if she comes back at 150 pounds and starts winning match after match, then what?
posted by ReeMonster at 5:46 PM on September 10, 2012


Quick, name literally any other person that is/was No. 1 in doubles.

She was also world #8 in singles at her highest. Yes her fame was out of proportion to her tennis success. But getting to a point where there are only seven people in the entire world ranked higher than you in a marquee sport means you were amazingly good at that sport.
posted by yoink at 5:58 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you played basketball, baseball, or American football in the US and were eighth best at it, you'd have local and national fans. If you were the eighth best association football player in virtually any nation but the US, you'd have all kinds of fans. Indeed it is exactly the fact that tennis is something of a niche or minor sport that made it remarkable that Kournikova got much attention, and not her skill at it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:02 PM on September 10, 2012


Wait, you guys lost me. Is Kournikova known because of her looks, skill, or niche-ness?

Or perhaps her excellent skill made her one of the top players which allowed people to notice her looks and that gave her other opportunities like modeling and dating one of the hottest pop stars at the time?
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 6:23 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Anna Kournikova had been slightly less pretty, we'd only know her for her tennis skills.

If Maria Sharapova was slightly less dominant, we'd be bitching about how she's just famous for her looks.

Progress, you haven't quite gotten women's sports right yet.
posted by padraigin at 6:42 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is one of those situations where I think the offending party is being both stupid and right. They're jerks, but if she's a success, she's going to be putting a huge toll on her body over the next fifteen years. The extra weight is going to have an impact on how well her joints hold up, and whether she'll be able to make it to the elite level. She's obviously tremendously gifted, but conditioning matters. Just ask any touted draft pick whose career has been derailed by injuries.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:53 PM on September 10, 2012


And that's her problem, and not theirs.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:56 PM on September 10, 2012


I can remember being 16 and my body constantly changing seemingly without rhyme or reason, first taller, then thicker, then taller. Add to that being a top-ranked athlete, expected to perform at top level during the midst of all those changes. The real shame in all of this is not that perhaps her coach felt she needed to work on conditioning (which should have been between Taylor, her parents and her coach), but that it's now become media fodder. I can't imagine being subjected to that at 16 and still being expected to hold my head up and play my best tennis.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 7:00 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, fuck this shit SIDEWAYS! I speak here as a 5' 7" person who, during my competitive tennis-playing days, weighed in at 163 pounds. ALL muscle. Hell, twenty years later and a goodly number of extra pounds later, that muscle is STILL there. Poke my serving arm shoulder too hard and *your* finger is going to get hurt.

After a year studying abroad in college, walking miles every day, I got back down to my high school weight again. Still 163. No lower. I haven't been under 163ish since puberty!

Muscle weighs more than fat.
Muscle weighs more than fat.
Muscle weighs more than fat.

Surely these fine USTA professionals know this?

I'm not saying there isn't possible room for improvement -- I haven't pulled out the calipers around this poor girl, but I'm saying as someone who was in roughly the same shape when playing at her age, there is a hella big difference between something like this that's punitive and something that's actually useful or helpful.

Ugh, this pisses me off so much I can't even be coherent about it.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:11 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


And that's her problem, and not theirs.

Well, it's kind of their problem if they're investing their resources into her career. This is a multimillion dollar program. In essence, she's been drafted to play in their minor leagues.

Which is not so say they're not Doing It Wrong, or that there isn't a racial overtone to this. The lack development program's lack of success is not encouraging. But it definitely is their business. I think more than anything, this speaks of how difficult it is to predict which kids will turn out to be professional successes in sports where so few people can be superstars.

If I were her, I'd take the publicity to line up my own training resources and leave the program. Then it really would be between her, her parents, and her coaches.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:14 PM on September 10, 2012


[Hey folks, this needs to be a discussion and not one person fights with everyone. Please try to help make that happen? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:23 PM on September 10, 2012


The comparison to other sports, particularly men's sports, falls down because Townsend is 16, for god's sake. Alex Ferguson has recently said Wayne Rooney is never going to be the fittest player ever. Rooney played for Everton at sixteen. No one would have dreamed about having a go at his fitness then and he probably wasn't the fittest guy in the squad then either. It's something reserved for young women. No one had a go at Kerry Wood when he announced his goal for the season was not to pitch while hungover! Everyone will say, oh, but that's baseball, but that was just absurd.
posted by hoyland at 8:07 PM on September 10, 2012


This is one of those situations where I think the offending party is being both stupid and right. They're jerks, but if she's a success, she's going to be putting a huge toll on her body over the next fifteen years. The extra weight is going to have an impact on how well her joints hold up, and whether she'll be able to make it to the elite level. She's obviously tremendously gifted, but conditioning matters. Just ask any touted draft pick whose career has been derailed by injuries.

This seems like the most charitable interpretation. She has the skill and ambition to power through now, but that won't be enough in literally a couple of years. And you'd have to think the USTA saw something different than we are seeing in those nice photos of a normal healthy looking youth to spout off like they did.

But the USTA could easily rectify the problem and have fitness standards for youth players. The President's fitness test or something.

Finally, the article says she has taken up running and weightlifting, so everything should be fine.
posted by gjc at 8:29 PM on September 10, 2012


Having a look at her results she has a far less impressive resume than I expected for a #1 ranked player - her doubles results make up over half her ranking points. In singles she had one big win as a #14 seed (Australian Open), made the quarter finals of the US Open as the top seed and seems to have pretty erratic form otherwise (3rd round exits at the other slams mixed in with a couple of wins in 2nd rank US tournaments).

From that you could make a case that she really is an elite shotmaker who is getting outhustled by her peers as she can't match their fitness/speed. You cover less of the court in doubles and she is dominant there. She is showing flashes of talent (junior slam wins don't come easy) but doesn't seem to be able to string it together or consistently compete with the best from outside the US.

This looks horrible for the USTA but I can imagine a scenario where a talented young star is coasting on their superior skills, tuning out the coaches as they can still pull out the wins and eventually the coaches give up. It isn't exactly a new story.
posted by N-stoff at 9:54 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just because there are notable large baseball players doesn't mean that scouts don't put a lot of value on young players being in top shape.

ahhhh scouts don't know shit :)
posted by twist my arm at 11:54 PM on September 10, 2012




From that you could make a case that she really is an elite shotmaker who is getting outhustled by her peers as she can't match their fitness/speed.

I love just-so stories.
1. Is she too fat? Let's go to the stats.
2. Looking at her record, I see that she is not winning 100% of her games.
3. I can easily imagine it's because she's too fat.
4. Therefore she is probably too fat.
posted by fleacircus at 2:26 AM on September 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Fat athletes are a Thing. Allow me to direct you to college highlights of "Big Baby" Glen Davis, or his run on the Championship Celtics, where a man with moobs was dunking on some of the most visibly fit people in the universe. Then there's Babe Ruth, and now Prince Fielder. Apart from linemen, big, chunky guys like Ben Roethlisberger are getting it done in football. How about soccer, where the players need to run back and forth for an hour solid? Show some love for the big guys.

Cycling is the only pro sport I can think of now that does not have chunky people competing at top levels.

If it were about athletic longevity, due to weight, then a guy like Ted Washington, who was a lot closer to 450lbs than the claimed 350lbs, would have retired before he was 25. He played pro football until he was 39.

The deal here is that she's not jailbait, and must be shamed into looking like a skinny white girl for marketing purposes.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:22 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fat athletes are a Thing. Allow me to direct you to college highlights of "Big Baby" Glen Davis, or his run on the Championship Celtics, where a man with moobs was dunking on some of the most visibly fit people in the universe. Then there's Babe Ruth, and now Prince Fielder. Apart from linemen, big, chunky guys like Ben Roethlisberger are getting it done in football. How about soccer, where the players need to run back and forth for an hour solid? Show some love for the big guys.

Cycling is the only pro sport I can think of now that does not have chunky people competing at top levels.

If it were about athletic longevity, due to weight, then a guy like Ted Washington, who was a lot closer to 450lbs than the claimed 350lbs, would have retired before he was 25. He played pro football until he was 39.


I'm going to address this on a general level, to avoid talking about Taylor specifically.

Sure, there are fat athletes, there also short athletes, and slow athletes, and all sorts of outliers. The fact of the matter, though, is that people who play the same sport (and in the same position in team sports) tend to be built similarly. Notice that you've named two power hitters, an NBA center, and a nose tackle. Those are all positions that feature power and strength over stamina and speed. Notice that you didn't name any fat short stops, point guards, or wide receivers; no doubt there are some out there, but they're much rarer.

That list of fat soccer players features 1) a lot of goalkeepers 2) a lot of nobodies and 3) a lot of people who got fat later in life and then were terrible (Ronaldo). Wayne Rooney is regularly criticized for being "fat" despite having a BMI that's only a bit over normal. This is because his job (overrated asshole) is one where it helps to be trimmer.

Listen, I'm a pudgy guy myself, and I like when pudgy guys succeed, but you don't see a lot of them (outside of specialized positions for fat people), because it's simply harder to be an elite level athlete and be fat. That's not disparaging fat people, being an elite athlete is really, really hard and requires your body to be completely abnormal in a whole host of ways, of which weight is merely one of them.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:08 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you compete at the pro level your body is a commodity and it will be closely monitored. I follow pro cycling and you wouldn't believe how obsessive managers get about the percent body fat of professionals. At the pro level you obsess about every possible advantage. People who are taking personal offense at this, as if it were about a group of image conscious men harassing a teenage girl, should put it into the context of professional sport.

The real wrong here is that it is played out in public. This should really be handled better and shame on the press for making it an issue.
posted by dgran at 6:24 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Notice that you've named...

Baseball: Have some pitchers: David Wells, C.C. Sabathia. 20 more.

I've also named a quarterback, could name more as well as few running backs, and a Glen Davis is more of a power forward than a center - big man can move.

Here's the real crux of it:

"Sure, there are fat athletes, there also short athletes, and slow athletes, and all sorts of outliers"

Townsend is one of those outliers. You just don't make it at her level of sport if your body is not more fit and agile than almost any human being you will meet in the next month. She's only sixteen, her body is not yet done maturing, and trying to manage how she looks instead of how she performs is image-centric bullshit of the highest order. To loose weight, if you're already an elite athlete, means damaging your body through overtraining or malnutrition. Getting rid of fat does some nasty things to your body, which is why it's so unpleasant to do.

Also, Glen Davis, once he left post-adolescence and grew into full adulthood in his early 20's, lost most of his excess weight and has an easier time keeping it off. Baby Fat is =also= a thing. So long as she gets proper nutrition (diets designed for cosmetic weight loss are pretty much the opposite of proper nutrition) and trains at an elite level, her shape should not be as important as her performance.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:27 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


benito.strauss: "Because if they do, perhaps I need to recalibrate the screen on my Mac. She looks like a perfectly healthy athlete to me.

It's well known that Macs take off 10 lbs, while Win PCs add 10. Linux makes it look like everyone has a beard, even women and little children.
"

You need a shave, BTW. As does she.
posted by Samizdata at 10:50 AM on September 11, 2012


Muddler: "We are becoming a world with of children athletes with eating disorders, doping habits, degenerative orthopedic disease, and simply no time to soak in being a child. A child that does not conform yet performs should be applauded. Sports needs all kinds of diversity, not just racially and gender based, but also by things such as body type and training type. Diversity attracts outliers to the sport and shows kids they can make it without conforming to bad habits that make you look good on TV.

A sports organization that ladles on a body image and weight issue for one of its top performers should have its officers and board fired for incompetence. They do not know how to promote their sport. It's time they had some undue pressure placed on their own narrow, chubby little shoulders.
"

You know, people complain that we run our athletes ragged without concern for their health and long term safety, and then, when an organization tries to do so, albeit hamhandedly, we argue that it is wrong?

This strikes me as a little baffling.
posted by Samizdata at 11:05 AM on September 11, 2012


It's not that baffling to me. It's wrong to encourage/require young athletes especially (who are physically and emotionally not done cooking and who don't have zillion-dollar contracts) to play even when they have concussions or to train in ways that might be beneficial in the short term but can be detrimental to their abilities later in life (repetitive stress injuries, for example).

It's also wrong to shame an athlete you're theoretically supposed to be helping to develop. Both things can be wrong and are not in contradiction to one another, since it's entirely possible to work with an athlete to improve their skills and fitness and do so without injuring them in career-ending ways.
posted by rtha at 11:25 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This would be going a lot better if, once they decided to talk about the issue in public (for some Godforsaken reason), USTA had stopped talking about her weight as a shorthand and pointed to specific parts of her game that she needs to improve to maintain sponsorship - "she tired out in the quarterfinal, and she needs to build stamina in order to succeed beyond the junior circuit," or some other things along those lines. If there are concrete issues they can cite, then obviously there's something she needs to work on, and cutting weight may be the quickest route. If not, then what's the problem?

Athletes' weight doesn't matter for its own sake. Performance is what matters. To go back to baseball, nobody cares about CC Sabathia's BMI, because he has demonstrated time and time again that it's not an issue. They do care about Josh Beckett's, because his pitching tailed off when he gained weight.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:27 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


People are speaking about her as if she's an elite athlete, and I'm not sure that's the case. Success in junior's tennis is great, but a truly world class elite female tennis player has usually turned pro at 16. Maria Sharapova was top 50 in the world at age 16. She won Wimbledon at 17 - not junior Wimbledon.

I don't think this should have played out in the press either (the USTA could have handled this so much more diplomatically), but she clearly has conditioning issues just by looking at her pictures, and if she doesn't become more fit I doubt she'll have any professional success at all. The USTA would like her to have professional success. They can be such a braindead organization in so many ways, but they are right here.

There seem to me to be a lot of people projecting their own issues onto this story. She's a perfectly fine and normal size for a 16 year old girl. She's not a perfectly fine and normal size to be a successful professional women's tennis player.
posted by imabanana at 11:49 AM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Actually as an addendum, it's possible she could have professional success in doubles at this size. I'm speaking of singles.
posted by imabanana at 11:51 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


There seem to me to be a lot of people projecting their own issues onto this story. She's a perfectly fine and normal size for a 16 year old girl. She's not a perfectly fine and normal size to be a successful professional women's tennis player.

Ding! Ding! Ding! You win the thread.
posted by LordSludge at 2:38 PM on September 11, 2012


Does it say anywhere how this first got into the news? Did the USTA issue a press statement, or did it start with the athlete's interviews?

I tried the linked article above, plus articles on tennis.com and huffington post, without a clear answer. There also seemed to be differing ways of wording the situation - the ESPN article says she was told to stop competing until she lost weight, the tennis.com article says she didn't receive funding to attend the tournament due to lacking medical clearance. Confusing.
posted by mannequito at 5:02 PM on September 11, 2012


She's not a perfectly fine and normal size to be a successful professional women's tennis player.

She is not a professional. She is not a woman.

She is, however the No. 1-ranked junior player. So I'll challenge you on her lack of potential success as a tennis player.

All the USTA or WTA needs is an anorexic player on tour--and if they want a reminder of why they don't, they should cast their minds back to 2003 when an emaciated and feeble Daniela Hantuchova looked on the verge of collapse during nearly every match she played.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:36 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


What this sport needs is a real-life Ann Kittenplan.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:39 PM on September 12, 2012


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