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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stuczynski / Suhr controversy

I was blissfully unaware of a recent controversy surrounding a post-competition interview in Beijing with Jen Stuczysnki and her coach Rick Suhr. I missed it because 1) I mostly didn't watch US coverage and 2) talking heads bore me to death.

Thankfully, ESPN's Luke Cyphers breaks it down for us:
After Stuczynski missed her final attempt at 4.90 meters, the camera followed her to Suhr's spot in the stands. NBC captured the following remarks from a surly sounding Suhr, who was talking to her while text-messaging:

"(It's) the same old same old. You're losing take-off at the big heights. What are you gonna do. You gotta learn to keep take-off. You got9you got caught at that meat grinder. I did not—and I told 10 people—I did not want to be caught in a meat grinder between 65 and 80. You had to, though.

You weren't on, you know, your warm-up didn't go well, you were 55, you got caught up in that meat grinder. What are you gonna do. What are you gonna do. You didn't have the legs. Her legs are fresh. Hey, it's a silver medal.Not bad for someone who's been pole vaulting for four years."

As Stuczynski turned around, she had a hollow, downcast look, as if she'd been upbraided.

Back in America, people watched. People cringed. And then people sent angry, sometimes ugly e-mails to Suhr's web site. Or they chimed in on Internet message boards, urging Stuczynski to fire "that jerk of a coach." A lot of people. But Stuczynski says people got it all wrong. Terribly wrong.

What they didn't see, she said, was what prompted Suhr's monologue. "I went over and I asked, What did I do wrong?" Stuczynski said. "And he said what he said, and it's the truth. And I didn't have a mike, and they didn't hear it and they didn't play it."

Moreover, she says, Suhr was texting his 13-year-old son in the States to inform him of the silver medal.
I haven't heard any nasty stuff about Rick Suhr before this, but on the other hand I don't keep my ear to the ground for that kind of thing as it amounts to little more than gossip. So whether there's any there there is beyond me, and I'm ready to take these people's word at face value. Mostly, though, I just don't care.

But I do find the public's response to this interesting. Stuczynski is a grown woman, a professional athlete who in an instant could have another dozen coaches knocking on her door. Such a person, if mistreated, wouldn't take it for very long. I'm certain the public response would have been different if the athlete in question had been Christian Cantwell, or Wallace Spearmon, or Allen Iverson.

I think this dustup reveals much about a paternalism the mainstream public directs towards women (particularly white women), seeing them all as young girls unable to protect themselves regardless of their age or power. As for black women? Tell me, how often did you see Bobby Kersee be at least as rough on his own wife, with little if any PR fallout?


Jimmie R. Markham said...

The people who got all bent out of shape after hearing Suhr's mild comments to Stuczysnki must not have been to any youth/little league games lately. Man! The comments from those coaches and parents would make Suhr blush!

Track Evangelist said...

Agreed, this story kind of got out of contro. Pretty wild, huh?