A few weeks ago, Sean wrote an open letter to the US Tennis Association, describing a destructive bureaucratic/political force within the USTA that, frankly, is in the process of hurting junior tennis and, consequently, the future of American tennis. You can find Sean's original post here.
After Sean's letter was posted on Hannity.com, Patrick McEnroe responded publicly on the USTA website.
Within the statement was a 17-page "point by point" response from Timothy Russell, the Chair of the USTA's National Junior Competition Committee critiquing Sean's complaint.
Below, is Sean's response to McEnroe. Advantage Hannity.
Dear Mr. Russell,
I appreciate your 17-page response to my comments posted on my website, Hannity.com, about the USTA's proposed changes to the National Junior Competitive Schedule. Frankly, I have been shocked at the flood of responses to my letter, and with the overwhelming numbers of people who are thanking me for saying what they all believe privately. This includes players (some of whom are the highest ranked in the country), parents, coaches, tennis facility owners, tournament directors and officials, college coaches and many others who share our passion for the sport.
You stated that you would have preferred to speak with me personally but were unable to reach me on my nationally syndicated radio show, which fields calls from among my 14 million listeners within a 3-hour period on a daily basis. Because you could not reach me this way, you said you were "compelled" to speak out publicly. I found this a bit odd considering that the introduction to your response came from Patrick McEnroe who had already sent me a personal email a week earlier and invited me to meet with him on this matter after he returned from Wimbledon. You did copy Mr. McEnroe on your letter to me and he does have my private email. Please feel free to email me any time at your convenience. I have always been, and will continue to be, available for personal or email conversations with you that this issue may require.
I have to admit first of all that I am disappointed over your lack of comprehension of the main points in my letter. While I am certainly impressed with your Ph.D., and your background in musical talent development, I am stunned at the tone deafness you display on the issue we are discussing here today – that of the future of junior tennis development. I am also rather disheartened that you felt you needed to resort to both personal and politically-tinged ad hominum attacks against me, however sarcastic and/or subtle they might have been. This, I am accustomed to and, frankly, I am immune to it. I am just surprised that a high-ranking USTA representative, discussing a matter having nothing to do with my political views, would sink to that level, especially when you expressed a desire to “agree to disagree.”
I am perfectly capable of fighting fire with fire, as I’m sure you can imagine. That is part of what I do for a living “in my world of politics,” as you reference so often, and which you seem to have a problem with for some reason. Whatever the case, I would rather suggest to you that we stay on topic, and focus on what is really important here – the future welfare of junior tennis for EVERY American kid with the desire to play this great game.
With that said, I am disappointed mostly, and overall, with your rote regurgitation of the same old USTA talking points. To be sure, the points you make in your letter in defense of these USTA national schedule changes are all-too familiar to the considerable numbers of players, parents, coaches and tennis officials across this country who have contacted me or with whom I have spoken to personally.
Everyone I have been contacted by in the USTA’s junior tennis membership has read and digested the 17-page, public response you sent me. But let me be clear: Your response in no way changes the landscape of the widespread outcry against the USTA on this matter. In fact, many of your points have heightened the opposition against you. And some of the more egregious comments you made have only served to make our case stronger, all of which I will soon address. The bottom line, still today, remains: The wide swath of the American junior tennis community I have spoken with or heard from on this matter does NOT support these changes.
I will begin here, with my rebuttal. You state a number of times in your letter, Mr. Russell, the following:
Please know that the new national tournament structure was not simply approved by the USTA Board of Directors alone as you indicate; the new structure was approved overwhelming by the entire Association – the USTA Board of Directors, Past Presidents, Presidential Appointees, and 16 of the 17 USTA Sections. In your world of politics, it was a landslide victory, a “mandate.” My guess is that November’s upcoming elections will not witness this kind of percentage in any race or consensus regarding any issue. …
Mr. Hannity, once again let me point out that 16 of the 17 Sections voted for this proposal, including your Eastern Section. I would respectfully submit that the 16 Sections that voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal also “painstakingly analyzed it.” This project has probably been one of the most closely vetted initiatives in recent USTA history. In the Sectional vote it was 16-1. In your world of politics, or any world,
that is a landslide victory!
With all due respect, your analogy is simply immature and absurd. This "landslide victory" as you call it was voted on ONLY by people within the USTA bureaucratic community. THIS IS THE ELECTORAL EQUIVALENT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S CABINET VOTING FOR HIM FOR RE-ELECTION!! Yes, a “landslide” indeed! It is unbelievable to me and to everyone else in the tennis community opposed to this dictatorial edict (in keeping with your own political analogy) that you would build your case on this kind of defense! On this point alone, you have lost your credibility in the entire debate and have illustrated the very problem the American tennis community has with you. You seem to be proud of the fact that those within the USTA bureaucracy have handed THEMSELVES down such a landslide victory.
By and large, the bureaucrats within the USTA are the only “voters” in favor of these changes -- and even THAT is not completely true, as you will see soon enough. But what you are touting here, basically, is that the USTA has orchestrated its OWN landslide victory! What kind of victory is that? And for whom, really, is it a victory? Certainly not the junior tennis players for whom the USTA exists to develop.
It is this kind of INTERNAL “landslide” victory that you have highlighted here that illustrates EXACTLY what is wrong with your whole process, and why the tennis community feels the way it feels about the USTA. As I noted earlier, with the “landslide” victory you are so proud of securing for yourselves, YOU are making our point for US, the many who disagree with you.
Let me be blunt and tell you exactly what that point is, and what people are telling me privately about the USTA:
1. Tournament directors and tennis facility owners are against these "new rules" but are afraid to "speak out" in fear of retribution. They fear the USTA will pull tournaments from them if they disagree, which will adversely affect their livelihood. They believe the USTA operates as a monopoly and there is little they can do about it.
2. Many parents have expressed to me fear of retribution from the USTA. They have told me they believe any chance of a future wildcard position for their player could be taken away, that their kids may be removed from your training centers, and that other consequences they fear cause them to remain silent in opposing what they believe is a terrible idea for junior tennis.
3. Many of the section leaders (those you tout as being part of your landslide victory) have, in fact, told me they have been bullied, pressured, and frankly "forced" into going along with the proposed changes.
Generally speaking, the consensus is that the USTA is tone deaf, arrogant, and attempts to silence opposing voices by attacking and belittling those who dare to speak up. And by highlighting this internal, self-mandated, “landslide victory” through which the USTA is passing down these new changes, Mr. Russell, I believe a case can be made that there is more truth than not to the fears and negative feelings the tennis community is reporting.
Though I am certain you will disagree with the statements above, I have a proposal for you. If you and the USTA are so confident that your new rules are so popular and so necessary for the future health of junior tennis and, specifically, for junior tennis players -- and if you really believe in your "landslide" mandate for these changes, then I suggest YOU PROVIDE THE USTA JUNIOR PLAYER MEMBERSHIP AN OPPORTUNITY TO WEIGH IN BY VOTING ON THIS VERY IMPORTANT DECISION YOU HAVE HANDED DOWN. I propose that a credible (non-partisan) survey organization (Gallup, Pew) be hired to survey the parents of every section (top 100) in each age group and ask them simply if they approve of a 75% reduction in opportunities to play national tournaments outside of their individual sections, or whether they would prefer to leave the current (2012), although still "reduced," opportunities in place.
I am certain you would want to hear directly from the very people who will be impacted by such a radical reduction in opportunities. And to make this decision to conduct a survey easier for you, I am willing to donate a considerable amount of money for this study IF (and only if) you are willing to abide by the majority consensus of the membership that you are dedicated to serving. In my world of “politics,” Mr. Russell, which you inexplicably reference so often in your letter, THIS is how elections are run. I will patiently await your response to this suggestion and my offer.
Moving on, you state in your response letter the following:
Once again, if the current system is so good, why are you and others bemoaning the U.S. position in the tennis world?!
In the next paragraph you describe how not overturning the recent vote “could affect a whole generation of U.S. tennis players.” At this point I will agree, but suggest a different outcome. As the new system will be implemented in 2014, the next generation of young American junior tennis players will be far better off. We will have many more and better players. And, personally I hope that your children will be two of them. You speak of “killing the future of the sport.” If the current state of American tennis is what you (and others) want to continue then let me respectfully submit that your view of a successful future is markedly different than ours. I am very confident that in ten years our sport and American rankings will be in a much better place.
As for these statements, I would like to point out that it was the USTA that designed this system, and it is YOU who claim that it is NOT working. Your entire argument is based on the notion that kids need to play more "local tournaments" and to train more, etc.
My question to you is "WHAT IF YOU ARE WRONG?" If, 10 years from now (when, by the way, you and Patrick McEnroe are long gone from your current positions) we discover that this proposed reduction was a mistake, what then?
In Patrick McEnroe’s response to Wayne Bryan's letter, Mr. McEnroe stated, "The world has changed, and tennis has changed with it. Tennis is simply not the same sport that it was 20 years ago -- even 10 years ago. Tennis is a much more global sport today… My specific charge is to help produce more top 100 players with the goal that we have more of them competing into the second week of the majors. … Achieving that goal is at least partly reliant on getting more young people involved in the sport."
I agree with Patrick McEnroe on this, and this is one of the main points/themes we are trying to make in this debate. But how can you achieve this goal (if what Mr. McEnroe says to Mr. Bryan is still a USTA goal) of “getting more young people involved in the sport” if you are reducing national play opportunities for juniors by 75 percent? Mr. Russell, the bulk of this debate really boils down to that one main fact, does it not? In essence, how can anything by any junior player, anywhere, ever be accomplished for the future of American tennis going forward – whether it’s in the next five years or 25 – if hundreds and hundreds of players are literally excluded from being able to play in your (also now reduced number of) national tournaments? It mystifies me and everyone else I hear from when I see nearly 1,000 players in any given month sitting on waiting lists for your tournaments, hoping and praying to get in, no matter how far or wide they will have to travel, just to be able to compete. But I will address that point in greater detail soon enough.
Mr. Russell, you seemed particularly interested in accusing me of supporting the idea of individual entitlement for our junior tennis players. This is a typical bedrock position of liberal thinking, and a mindset against which I have railed my entire career in broadcasting (as you must know). On this subject, you either completely misunderstood what I was communicating to you or you were attempting to create some kind of “entitlement mentality” smokescreen to deflect from your indefensible positions.
Whatever the case, I will try again to educate you on this matter. First of all, I never used the word “entitle” or any form of that word, nor did I imply anything about entitlement. It is ludicrous that you would suggest as any kind of a thoughtful and intelligent response to my points that lower level players would think they are “entitled” to play Roger Federer. Obviously, this is NOT what I was saying. It is even more ludicrous that you would take my arguments and somehow think that responding “Not every American gets their own nationally syndicated TV and/or radio show” would be any kind of a meaningful, reasonable thing to offer. I won’t dignify that statement from you by discussing it any further, except to add, again, that your defensive, sarcastic, and inappropriately personal responses nullify your own credibility as someone who might be willing to openly and thoughtfully engage in this discussion, as well as the credibility of the USTA’s position on these new rule changes.
The tennis community reading all of this certainly understands that you, Mr. Russell, would have loved to have played in the most recent Wimbledon championships even though you are not qualified to do so, as you shared with us all. But we also know that this kind of sarcasm from you in no way addresses what we are trying to discuss here. Again, this type of attitude you display, which was NOT lost on any of the hundreds of people who contacted me about this matter in the last two weeks, is yet another layer of the arrogance we are all experiencing with the USTA.
In your letter, on this nonsense you advanced about “individual entitlement,” you said the following:
While you state that you “would prefer free market competition” it seems that you, and others, want individual entitlement.
This concept of “exposure” is a non-starter as far as I am concerned. You earn your way to play the top players! Again, I would love “exposure” to Roger Federer in a competitive event, as would many lower level pros. Players have to earn their way to compete against Roger Federer and other top players. The logic is flawed that believes that a “lower ranked” junior is “entitled” to play the No. 1 ranked player, or a Top Ten player, in their age group at a 192 national championship because “I paid a lot of money to accumulate my national points” by flying around the country to insure that I am top 200. If you disagree with my/our position so be it. But, in the pros, those in the “futures” have to win before they compete in the “challengers,” and then win again in the “challengers” before gaining access to the WTA and ATP Tours.
I must confess that the next statement might actually be the assertion with which I am the most amazed. You actually wrote: Lower ranked players will not get to play national events at all and, in all likelihood, will understandably lose interest in pursuing the game. Why should low ranked players even get to play at national events?! Every youngster is not entitled to be a nationally ranked player! I love tennis and I am not in the Wimbledon draw this week. Not every college graduate can go to medical school. Mr. Hannity, I am amazed that you and others believe that all players are entitled to compete on the national stage. Not every American gets their own nationally syndicated TV and/or radio show. Politically speaking, if you will permit me such a reference, since you started your column professing your passion for politics . . . what the national Junior Competition Committee proposed, and the USTA adopted, you might actually consider very “Republican.” We created equal access, and equal opportunity, but no entitlement. Players will have to earn their way. Winners advance. This is actually very “American,” a very “bi-partisan” approach . . . to be cheered by tennis playing Democrats and Republicans alike. Not everyone is “entitled” to play nationally, whether you have the financial resources or not.
Again, I won’t dignify the political jabs and chip-on-your-shoulder-type sarcastic remarks about Republican vs. Democrat, or whatever that is you’re trying to do. Instead, I will point out that in Patrick McEnroe’s letter to Mr. Bryan, Mr. McEnroe states, “The USTA has a clearly defined mission -- to promote and develop the growth of tennis. The USTA wants more people on more courts in more places; that is our charge as an association.”
The crux of my letter about retaining the current national schedule opportunities (though even the current events have been reduced) is literally about keeping “more people on more courts in more places,” as Mr. McEnroe says himself. It is simply not true that I am advancing an “entitlement mentality.” What I AM advocating for is the USTA’s own stated goal of allowing more opportunities for more players. I have already noted that your “entitlement mentality” argument is ineffective on its face because of the ridiculous nature of it all, to say nothing of its mean-spirited and desperate nature. Do you even know how points are accumulated?
Mr. Russell, it is simple. Let me educate you now as to how your own current system works. To acquire national points, a player has to compete in sectional matches against the top kids in his or her section. In those sectionals, a player has to WIN matches against the top players. If they win, they do, in fact, earn their way into national matches. This sounds a lot to me like your “earned advancement.” It sounds like achievement. It sounds like hard work. What your own current system sounds like to me, Mr. Russell, is NOT an entitlement system. It sounds like Mr. McEnroe in his letter to Mr. Bryan about the USTA’s defined mission of “promoting the GROWTH and DEVELOPMENT of tennis.” In your haste to accuse me of advancing an “entitlement mentality,” you somehow missed what I was saying; what your own organization and its president have always said and held as a goal. More kids on more courts in more places, earning their way into your tournaments.
The only problem with your goal is, the USTA is now reducing the number of national matches, and the numbers of players allowed in those national matches by 75 percent. Now, I ask you, does this sound like anyone wants, or is going to get, any kind of “entitlement” to you? In every case, these are hard-working, high-achieving, earned-advancers that you, yourself, say you are looking for. These kids are all working and striving for opportunities that you will soon DENY them. Where is the GROWTH in that? Where is the DEVELOPMENT? The players who work hard, win, and earn their way into the nationals DO advance in your current system, Mr. Russell. Nobody is playing in any national today who hasn’t played and earned his or her way there.
But this is not about anyone being “entitled,” really, is it? This is clearly about USTA politics. The fact that you have stooped to accusing me of having an “entitlement mentality,” when certainly you know better, is just downright disingenuous. Frankly, your arguments can only be seen as desperate attempts to avoid hearing directly from the people who are going to be affected by your “edict.”
You know, Mr. Russell, if USTA officials need to readjust their own point system to remedy any abuses, they should simply just readjust it. But under your new system, you have slashed and burned the number of spots and tournaments down so low, the mere OPPORTUNITIES for kids to work hard, earn and advance has been all but destroyed. Remember your stated goal, GROWTH and DEVELOPMENT.
You use the Olympics as another analogy in your letter, when you write:
Take, for example, the upcoming Olympics. The Olympic singles draws will be comprised of 64 players, not the usual 128 found in Grand Slam® events. Where are the countless tennis blogs complaining about that “opportunities have been reduced?” Who should be able to play in the Olympic singles competition (i.e., the selection process, an issue found in junior tournaments as well)? Only four players from any one country are allowed to compete in the Olympic singles event. Consider the unfortunate circumstance of Feliciano Lopez of Spain. As of this week’s ATP Tour rankings he is ranked #17 in world in singles. That noted he will not be competing at the Olympics in the singles competition. (He will be competing in doubles.) Some may say that this is not fair. But it is the reality. In Spain Lopez is only the country’s fifth best player. The current rankings for higher ranked Spanish players are Nadal = # 2; Ferrer = #5; Almagro = # 11; Verdasco = #16. If you have been following the Olympic tennis selection process you already know that there are a number of other similar stories, like that of Philipp Kohlschreiber, who defeated Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the quarterfinals in Halle as well as reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, who will also be excluded from the men’s draw (but for different reasons than Lopez). Get a grip America. Here are real life lessons for young American junior tennis players!
It is unbelievable to me that you would seriously compare 12-16 year olds in the junior tennis arena to Olympic athletes, and the manner in which the Olympic committee qualifies athletes for the Olympics. Has the mentality of the USTA really gone this far afield? Of course our junior tennis players (I would hope) will someday earn their way into Olympic tennis, but you are comparing apples to oranges here in a very unrealistic way. Have you forgotten? We are talking about kids playing junior tennis. We are not talking about the Olympics. And your comment “Get a grip America?” Is that a joke? Is the USTA purposefully being punitive in its decisions in order to teach some “real life lessons” to its own American juniors by cutting their opportunities to play? If not, your remarks here certainly suggest as much. Again, what you have written here – and elsewhere in your 17 pages – begins to truly show not only your own personal colors, but those of the USTA, and it’s a little unsettling.
Do you not remember the training – the blood, sweat, tears, time, sacrifices, heartbreaks and glories – of your own children during their junior tennis careers? Have you climbed so far away from real-life on the training and junior tournament courts into the ivory tower of the USTA that you don’t recall what it took for your own son to achieve the success that he achieved? To say, “Get a grip America?” and then to suggest that American kids need some “real life lessons” that somehow mirror the bitter Olympic disappointment suffered by Spain’s 5th highest ranked professional player in order to what? Take away 75 percent of their opportunities to do their own work, their own training, and their own earning of their own tennis careers through opportunities merely OFFERED to them in their own lives in order to qualify and play in national tournaments? Again, all of this foolishness you use to support the USTA’s changes are only evidence of the weaknesses of your own arguments. There’s no other way to interpret these arguments and analogies you have used.
I would also like to address your response to the issues of competitiveness and demand for national matches. You wrote in your letter the following:
… But, once again, not all of these match experiences are competitive. In fact, many are not competitive. Please study the match results of the first two rounds in many of our 192 draw national championships. For everyone complaining about reduced draw sizes, please explain to me why the first alternate in to this July’s Girl’s 12’s National Clay Court Championship is ranked #888 in the country! There simply might not be the “demand” that you and others claim there to be for some of our largest national championships. Please also study the number of competitors there are in the national events of other individual youth sports and how they progress to these events (i.e., USA Diving).
Again, we are not talking here about diving. We are not talking about the numbers of competitors in other individual youth sports. We are not talking about Olympic athletes. We are not interested in having our 12-year-olds play Roger Federer at Wimbledon. We are not talking about my television show. And, lastly, we are not talking about landslide elections or national politics. We are talking about national junior tennis, and the fact that the USTA is taking away opportunities for American kids to reach their full potential in the sport of TENNIS. You have acknowledged above that “everyone” is “complaining” about reduced draw sizes. Right there, in its simplest form, is an example of how your new rules are disenfranchising your own players. That said, you assert that “there simply might not be the demand that you and others claim there to be for some of our largest championships.” Well, there “might NOT be,” as you say … but I am telling you, as are tens of hundreds of others telling you, there actually IS a demand to play in the largest championships, and that demand is huge. This one fact, in a nutshell, is perhaps the biggest tragedy with your decision to cut opportunities.
You have invited me to study the number of competitors there are in the national events of other individual youth sports and how they progress into their national events. As none of your USTA players or members are interested in other sports at this juncture, I would invite you, instead, to GO TO YOUR OWN DRAWS AND STUDY THE NUMBER OF KIDS WHO ARE PACKED INTO YOUR WAITING LISTS for your own (now reduced number and soon to be even further reduced number of) national events. Here is a small sampling of what I found on YOUR website in just a few moments:
Beginning in January of this year when the first phase of the USTA’s reductions began:
Tournament #153800001: There were 415 alternates, or 415 kids who wanted to play under your current rules but were NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY.
Tournament #257100312: There were 528 alternates who wanted to play under your current rules but WERE NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY.
Tournament #651760812: There were 299 alternates who wanted to play under your current rules but WERE NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY.
Tournament #350000412: There were 178 alternates who wanted to play under your current rules but WERE NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY.
In just these four tournaments alone, there were almost 1,500 American junior players who would have like to have played in a national tournament, under your own CURRENT rules and requirements, but were SHUT OUT. While there may be some duplication here, this one snapshot statistic shows the reality of how extremely high the demand is among junior tennis players for national play. Read this again, Mr. Russell and all USTA officials who voted for the 2014 changes in the national schedule: THERE WERE NEARLY 1,5OO KIDS WHO WANTED TO PLAY IN FOUR RECENT NATIONAL TOURNAMENTS WHO WERE TURNED AWAY. And this is BEFORE your radical reductions have even taken place!! It’s actually hard to read, is it not? And it certainly makes NO logical sense whatsoever.
No one is saying that each national tournament should accept every single kid who qualifies and applies. There has to be some sense of practicality. But there is NO justification for reducing the national draw sizes when there are thousands of kids who want to play, who qualify to play (by being endorsed), but who are literally being told by the USTA that they will not be allowed to play? How is this GROWTH? How does this amount to DEVELOPMENT?
You wrote, “What should a national tournament structure do? … Incentivize hard work and rigorous competition, where winners advance and loser do not.” You also quote Wayne Bryan (a big critic, by the way, of the USTA) as saying, “A young tennis player should not get in a car to play a tennis match until they can beat everyone (to) where they can ride a bike; that player should not get on a plane to fly to a tennis match until they can beat everyone to where they can ride in a car.” If this is the case, at best you will have one- to two kids from every section and age group allowed into national tournaments. I think you have forgotten that we are talking about 12 to 16 year old kids here.
These kinds of responses from you continue to totally contradict your own USTA stated goals. The whole point of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” (which you dismiss) is that the reason hockey players born from January through March did so well is because THEY ALL PLAYED UP. There were better kids at younger ages. Why? They all saw the NEXT level of play and those opportunities made them better players. Under you edict, these same kinds of opportunities for national junior tennis players will be removed.
Mr. Russell, I have to say that I get the distinct impression from your letter that your main focus here, really, is not on advancing the cause of junior tennis for all American kids – but rather it is solely on finding the one next big tennis star. But for 99 percent of players, as you surely know, this is not going to happen. Yet, what about the kids who want to play in college? What about the kids who want to play competitively, yes, but recreationally? The kids who want to earn their way into playing in college NEED these national opportunities if they want a chance to get into a Division 1, 2 or 3 school – schools, by the way, that are being forced more and more to take players from foreign countries. Have you considered these American junior players, who comprise the vast majority? The “glory days” of tennis you talk about are important, yes, but so are college scholarships for competitive American players – scholarships, again, that are going more and more to foreign students.
To be more specific on this point, I found one of your remarks very telling about the USTA’s true motivation for these reductions. You wrote that the “early rounds of the national draws contain many matches that are not competitive.” I wondered, not competitive for whom? With just this one statement, Mr. Russell, you have revealed what is perhaps the USTA’s entire purpose in instituting these reductions. And that is, (contrary to Patrick McEnroe’s own declaration of more tennis for more players on more courts) that the USTA IS NOT INTERESTED IN THE “GROWTH” AND “DEVELOPMENT” OF ANYONE IN JUNIOR TENNIS IN THIS COUNTRY EXCEPT FOR THE TOP 32 PLAYERS AT ANY GIVEN TIME. There simply is no other explanation for what the USTA is doing with these reductions, and you have admitted as much in your comment about the early rounds in the national draws.
I will answer my own question above: The only players the national draw matches would not be “competitive” enough for would be the top 32 players. But I ask you, would the top seeded players really be disenfranchised or somehow be unfairly treated, or lose any ground, if they played an easier first round match? And what about the one kid who always seems to come out of nowhere in every tournament, the one who worked a little harder, a little longer, prepared for the tournament a little better, and who knocks out a top seed? Will that kid ever be given a chance to do these things (like so many have before him) under your new rules? The answer is no.
Again, Patrick McEnroe’s statement about “more people on more courts in more places” being the USTA’s charge just doesn’t hold water, especially in light of your responses. The best part of Mr. McEnroe’s quote here, speaking as a parent, is that kids who play tennis on a regular basis are not “hanging out with their friends doing nothing.” Remember, this is no longer the America of the 1950s, where talking in class, chewing gum and running up and down the schoolhouse halls were the top problems facing parents in this country. Today, we are dealing with drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancies and suicides. The country’s national junior tennis program, as is so with all other organized sports, is and always has been one of the healthiest and best ways we can guide and channel our kids’ time, energies, hearts, minds and souls through childhood into adulthood.
But now, in light of your drastic reductions, perhaps you should contact the parents of all these kids who are going to be excluded from tennis, or who are alternates, waiting on your long, long, LONG lists of American kids who would like to play, and earn their way into playing, nationals but will never have a chance to ever play again? You should call those kids and tell them, like you have said in your letter to me, to “get a grip!” Good lesson! Those kids will learn from the USTA, while kids and tennis governing organizations in other countries are busy cleaning up in the tennis world, that hard work and earning your way into the national tournaments has now been reduced to 32 people only; the rest of you can “get a grip.”
By the way, in your letter to me you cherry-picked for your own purposes the one girl who is #888 in the country in Girls 12s who made it in to the National Clay Courts. You did this in an attempt to show how relatively easy it is to get into a national tournament. Again, you are being disingenuous. Do you really need to be manipulative like this to make your point? I do hope, however, that this young girl learns during her experience there to work harder and keep developing her game. It could be an experience that might jump-start her possible future as one of your bright young stars; an experience she will never forget, and hopefully keep building on. Perhaps one day, sooner rather than later, she will be one of those elite 32 kids out of the thousands and thousands who will now never have a chance to even play.
Another one of your more ridiculous solutions for kids who will no longer be allowed to play in national tournaments is that “they can and should play adults and enter adult tournaments; that they should play collegiate players." This is just absolutely mind-boggling. Go play in tournaments with adults? There are going to be untold thousands of kids languishing on your waiting lists every month, scratching and pleading to get into your now handful of national tournaments – and you’re suggesting that they go play with adults? These kids need to be developing by playing with their peers, as they do in other countries. This particular scenario you offer here is just sad, really.
But I think maybe the saddest part about all of this is that you, Mr. Russell, and the rest of the USTA already know all this. You know what I am arguing in favor of here; you understand that the wider tennis community is against these changes and why. You know we are not looking for entitlements, or special treatment, or anything that would hold back ANY of the junior players (those at the top and those striving to get to the top) or harm the future of the game.
You know that we are seeking more opportunities for more kids to play in more tournaments, which would encourage and foster GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT for as many kids as possible, just as you claim you seek. As a group of concerned USTA members with kids who are USTA players, you KNOW we aren’t looking to buy points or rankings, or travel around the country with big bags of money while those who cannot afford to travel stay home, disenfranchised from it all. The outlandish nature of the arguments and analogies you have used in your response to me prove that you do, indeed, know all of this. In fact, in keeping with your own political analogies, Mr. Russell, you sound a lot like President Obama, with his class warfare mantra.
At this time, I would like to restate my challenge to you to institute an unbiased survey on these schedule and draw size changes – a membership survey that, again, I would be more than happy to provide financial support for if the USTA will agree to abide by the outcome, regardless of what the outcome may be. Should the membership vote to keep the schedule and draw sizes, we can begin to work on ways to improve the legitimate concerns the USTA says it has.
For example, could not the USTA begin to focus on new and significant ways of raising money for those players with families who are not able to fully afford travel, or any of the other myriad of expenses that have always been associated with the game of tennis. Extra, 5 or 10-dollar surcharges on tournament fees could be collected, or scholarship programs could be extended and strengthened. Fundraisers could be developed specifically for this purpose, as well. I purchase a box of four seats every year for the U.S. Open and always notice how many athletes, politicians, dignitaries and celebrities are in the President’s Box nearby. Perhaps some of these people could be recruited to help with raising money for the junior tennis cause, and please note I would be happy to help in any way that I can.
I have also often wondered why the USTA does not recruit businesses for its junior tennis program as it does for professional tournaments. As with the ATP and WTA events, these types of relationships could supplement the travel and expenses of junior players who require financial assistance to get to the national tournaments. You say money is a major obstacle for some of these juniors’ families. But rather than reduce junior opportunities by 75 percent for ALL players, raise what is needed to supplement the players who need assistance. For instance, why not partner up with JetBlue, which could become the official airline of USTA Junior Tennis; or the Marriott Hotel chain, the official hotel, or Hertz, the official rental car of USTA Junior Tennis tournaments?
Surely, without all the backbiting you have so far displayed, Mr. Russell, we can all agree to think about and discuss some of these ideas and come up with even more solutions that would suit everyone involved. As I have shown, there are many ways to improve the legitimate issues and concerns the USTA has with its own point system and how that relates to its national schedule – but without having to reduce these tournaments and draw sizes, which will alienate more players than it will “help.” There are creative solutions to be hammered out, donations to be gathered and geared in the directions they need to be geared. There are ways and means for all of us to work together in order to engage every player, in every state and section, from all economic backgrounds, without summarily excluding thousands and thousands of current and potential young American tennis players from the national tennis arena.
The long and the short of this is, Mr. Russell, is that you and I can continue to go head to head on this issue, we can go letter to letter, email to email, for the rest of the year. We could come up with all sorts of clever things to say, arguments to make, and points on which we could “out-jab” each other, as you have done very nicely in your response to me. If you want to do that, I can certainly do it. As I’ve said, and you obviously know, this is what I do for a living. I debate. But the bottom line is this: I know it, you know it, and every person reading this letter now who is interested in this issue knows it … the USTA, yourself included, fully understands that players, parents and coaches all want ONLY for these kids (all kids) to have more opportunities to play more tournaments, not less. At the very least, we would ask you to keep the number of national tournaments and draw sizes at the 2012 level.
In closing, let me challenge you once again: Do you have the courage to back up your so-called “mandate” and your “landslide victory” by releasing this decision from the USTA hierarchy and handing it over to the USTA membership? Will you allow the families who will actually be impacted by this edict decide? Frankly, I doubt that you do. But I hope you will prove me wrong.
Please contact me with your decision to put this matter up for a vote by the entire USTA membership. I will be waiting for a reply.