How Coco Gauff Embodies the Biggest Story in Sports

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What good timing.

That thought flashed by way of my thoughts as I sat courtside at Arthur Ashe Stadium final week, watching Coco Gauff poleax the backhand passing shot that sealed the U.S. Open and her first Grand Slam title.

My ideas had been as a lot in regards to the in-sync means Gauff struck that final ball as how the second had lined up for this column.

Gauff — a sensation now at 19, a lot as Venus and Serena Williams had been on the similar age — stepped nearer to her future. With a significant championship in hand, she is able to be a frontrunner on the ladies’s tennis tour and one of many guardians of the brand new period of feminine empowerment in sports activities.

Her starting supplied an ideal ending for me. The Open was the final occasion I’ll cowl because the Sports activities of The Instances columnist. I’m transferring to our Nationwide desk, the place I’ll write characteristic tales about America’s surprise, complexity, hassle and promise.

How good that the U.S. Open helped decrease the curtain, with a girls’s sport offering the match’s apex second: Gauff’s three-set win over Aryna Sabalenka overshadowed an anticlimactic males’s remaining wherein Novak Djokovic took his twenty fourth straight main title with a straight-sets win over Daniil Medvedev. For me, girls have been the story, and never simply on the U.S. Open.

I took on this column within the late summer season of 2020. The worst days of the pandemic can appear a hazy reminiscence now, caught behind our collective consciousness, as painful moments typically are. A lot of the sports activities world was shuttered and scrambling to determine methods to get again to competitors amid the lack of so many lives. Who knew when the rampaging virus could be tamed?

On the similar time, the ever-present inheritance of racism roiled the nation after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — each by the hands of police — and the brutal killing of a jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, by white racists.

Bear in mind the athletes — well-known professionals and little-known amateurs in the US and globally — and the way they spoke out and led.

And keep in mind that Donald Trump was president then, spewing barbs at them, significantly at Black athletes who raised their voices or protested by having the temerity to kneel, exercising their proper of peaceable protest through the taking part in of the nationwide anthem.

I wrote about all this and far more, and I attempted to take action in a means that confirmed I used to be not within the form of shouting matches that pervade a lot of sports activities journalism. I aimed to put in writing thoughtfully about how sports activities and athletes intersect with the social points that stir and vex our tradition. I sought to be a powerful voice on this area, and so as to add to the combo a very good pinch of storytelling and the occasional piece spiced with somewhat cheeky enjoyable. Greater than something, I sought to stay out essentially the most tried-and-true of journalistic credos: consolation the troubled and afflict the comfy — or, in my parlance, combat for the outsiders and the outliers, the unseen and the ignored.

Which brings me again to a topic I thought of typically right here, one embodied by Gauff hitting that backhand passing shot and strolling off with a Grand Slam title and a winner’s test for $3 million: the rise of girls in sports activities.

Consider all we’ve witnessed on this area during the last three years.

Consider the W.N.B.A., the league’s main position within the protests of 2020, and its continued power as an amalgamation of girls who usually are not afraid to problem the established order.

Consider the successful combat by the U.S. girls’s nationwide soccer workforce for equal pay, or how feminine soccer gamers throughout the globe and within the N.W.S.L. stood up towards harassing, abusive coaches.

Did you see that volleyball sport on the College of Nebraska, with 92,000 followers within the stands? Or all these record-breaking, packed-to-the-gills stadiums on the Ladies’s World Cup, with 75,000 readily available for the current remaining in Australia?

Yep, it’s a brand new period.

Take into account March Insanity 2023. This was a 12 months when the boys’s occasion sat within the shadow of the ladies’s aspect — with its upsets, stress and high quality. With the charismatic Angel Reese main L.S.U. over Iowa for the nationwide title. With Reese, daring and Black, sparking a dialog on race by taunting her white opponent, Caitlin Clark, the sharpshooting participant of the 12 months.

Sure, on the court docket, monitor, discipline or wherever they compete, girls may be as difficult, ornery, aggressive and controversial as males. That must be celebrated.

The place will this finish? With a couple of exceptions, tennis being one, it’s arduous to think about girls’s sports activities getting the form of consideration they deserve any time quickly.

Who will get essentially the most cash, discover and hosannas in youth sports activities? By and enormous, boys.

Who runs most groups and controls most media that broadcast and write in regards to the video games? By and enormous, males.

Who runs the businesses that present the sponsorship cash? Yeah, primarily males.

Change is coming. However change will take extra time. Possibly a couple of generations extra.

The decks stay stacked in favor of men, however girls proceed their combat. In the case of the video games we play and love to look at, that’s the largest story in sports activities proper now.

How good that this 12 months’s U.S. Open would body that story as soon as once more. Flushing Meadows was a two-week gala celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Billie Jean King’s profitable push for equal prize cash on the occasion — a landmark in sports activities that also stands out for its boldness.

And the way becoming that on this golden anniversary — with Serena Williams now retired, with Billie Jean entrance and middle throughout tributes all match lengthy — Gauff would win her first Grand Slam occasion and do it by flashing the form of poise that marks her as an inheritor to the throne.

Thanks, Coco and Serena. Thanks, Billie Jean, and all the opposite feminine and male athletes who’ve gone towards the established order, emerged victorious, and are nonetheless within the combat.

And thanks for following alongside as I’ve tried to face for the outsiders and make sense of all of it.

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