It was 241 years ago this week that Thomas Jefferson and a band of brothers unleashed the Declaration of Independence, one of mankind’s greatest documents, upon the Earth.
Did you notice two key words in that previous sentence, namely brothers and mankind?
In the nearly quarter of a millennium since the Declaration was signed, we still haven’t figured out how to incorporate or even recognize the contributions of women into the American fabric.
One of the most noticeable, if not admittedly inconsequential areas where women continually draw short shrift is in athletics.
Good luck finding the results of most sporting events involving women outside the Olympics.
And when you do find those results, if they’re from a sport where men also compete, like golf or basketball or track and field, it doesn’t take long for comparisons between the two sides to begin, usually to the detriment of the female participants.
The one sport where the two sexes compete and women get something of a fair shake is tennis. Or, at least, that seemed true.
That is until John McEnroe, a legend on the court and its most recognized commentator off, was asked in an NPR interview about Serena Williams.
McEnroe quickly allowed that Williams was the best female player ever. Then, the interviewer asked why he qualified his praise, why she wasn’t the best player in the world, period.
McEnroe seemed flustered for a moment, then posited that if Williams played on the men’s circuit that she would be ranked 700th in the world.
Let’s give McEnroe the benefit of the doubt that the question was a bit flawed.
Let’s also state this fact: In most cases, once past puberty, men are typically physically stronger and faster than women.
Even with those allowances, McEnroe made the same postulation that many sports fans – male and female - - do.
It’s the one that assumes that bigger and faster means automatically better.
The words bigger, faster and, for the most part, stronger, are objective words, representing things that can be measured.
But better? That is entirely a subjective word. A reasonable person can certainly look at how well two people perform in their own realms and make a judgement that one person is better at what they do than the other.
Serena Williams has won more Grand Slam titles than all but one person in history, male or female, many in thoroughly dominant fashion, and the last one while she was two months pregnant.
Shouldn’t that fact alone get her in the conversation about who is best, regardless of gender?
What McEnroe did was continue the specious line that any athletic thing a man does is better than any athletic thing a woman does, because a man is bigger, stronger or faster.
If you think that, try this supposition on for size: Mike Tyson was a heavyweight boxer and likely would have clobbered Sugar Ray Robinson, a welterweight, by virtue of his size and strength.
Yet, no serious boxing historian would say that Tyson was a better fighter than Robinson. Not unless they wanted to be laughed at.
And so, during this Independence week, we give thanks for the freedom to laugh at silly people like John McEnroe.
And that’s how I see it for this week.