Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
After agonizing through yet another clay-court season where the misinformed and hard-headed among us bemoaned the lack of Hawkeye and the competence of the world’s leading tennis officials, I thought I was home free for another year.
Then, John McEnroe opened his mouth. Again.
As reported by Simon Chambers at The Tennis Space, the seven-time Grand Slam champion again confirmed that 30 years has done little to quiet his disdain for officials in a pre-Wimbledon chat with British journalists. Despite repeatedly showcasing his ignorance about the rules as both a player and commentator, and today’s players also showing a lack of understanding of the regulations that govern their sport, McEnroe asserted (and not for the first time) that getting rid of officials entirely would drum up interest in tennis.
Q: You want to get rid of all the officials?
A: Yes. Do away with them altogether.
Q: It is possible in this day and age?
A: That’s what I’m saying. You want a little edge so if you had no umpires but you had a challenge system, obviously it would have to be on every court, that goes without saying. But you’d have a system where the players would call their own lines and all of a sudden things would get a whole lot edgier. But you could challenge it. And then there could be like… say the guy was like blatantly – you think – cheating and you challenge and it’s right, people would be like “boo!”, you know, people would get way more into it. And then you’d be like ‘see this guy? This guy is such a cheater!”. It would be unbelievable for tennis, I promise you. The problem is, there’s no way in hell they’ll do it. But I guarantee you that tennis would be like 30 per cent more interesting.
There are so many things wrong here, but the biggest issue I have with McEnroe’s comments (shockingly) doesn’t have anything to do with officials at all. An all-time great of our sport is essentially saying that it’s not interesting enough and needs to resort to cheap gimmicks to just make itself relevant and entertaining. Does he not realize how ridiculous that sounds? Imagine if Michael Jordan said the NBA should get rid of referees and Lebron James should be required to call his own travels. Or how about if Pete Rose said MLB players should call their own strike zones? The sport would turn into a farce faster than McEnroe himself could spell ‘umpire.’ That’s supposed to be a good thing for the sport?
We’ve reached a point in McEnroe’s existence where most (myself included) can no longer discern if he actually believes what he says anymore. He’s been cashing in on the same schtick for decades now, and it’s certainly extended well beyond self-parody.
As the first day of play at the All England Club came to a close on Monday, Ernests Gulbis, no stranger himself to outlandish opinions and controversy, disagreed with McEnroe’s comments. After an amusing exchange with a reporter in which he thought McEnroe wanted to remove “vampires,” the Latvian said: “Without umpires, it wouldn’t work.”
When even Ernests Gulbis is disagreeing with you, it might be time to reexamine yourself just a tad.