PARIS -- Tennis takes place under an increasingly big tent, its occupants still skewed toward the wealthy and privileged, yet more diverse than ever. The game once dominated by a few nations -- and heavily white in every sense right down to the gear -- has a more varied palette.
Surely amid the multilingual, multicultural troupe that hopscotches around the globe, there are different opinions on gay rights and same-sex marriage. No one has polled the top 500 on the topic, nor is that relevant unless and until the boundaries of mutual respect are violated.
The recent conflagration involving Margaret Court and Casey Dellacqua -- Australians a couple of generations removed -- has been entirely provoked, and prolonged, by the 24-time Grand Slam champion. Dellacqua, a fine doubles player who has come close to a major title on several occasions, wants to get to the top. Court is racing full tilt toward the bottom, carving an invisible asterisk next to her competitive accomplishments with her invective.
Dellacqua maintained a dignified silence after Court singled her out with hellfire and brimstone in 2013, when Dellacqua and partner Amanda Judd announced the birth of their first child. Every one of Court's anti-gay lectures since (and they come with some regularity) understandably is viewed as an extension of that personal attack by Dellacqua's fellow players, whether they are gay, straight, activists or politically indifferent. That is why they are circling the wagons the way they are.
Same-sex marriage is not the law of the land in Australia, where the issue could be debated for some time to come. It should be offensive to people on any part of the spectrum to see Court using fellow players as pawns in that polemic.
Court played in an era when etiquette was stricter than it is now. Fines and suspensions no longer apply to her behavior, but she should know what constitutes unsportsmanlike conduct.
Had she lobbed the same kinds of inflammatory remarks at a younger athlete, or group of athletes, based on race or religion or ethnicity, she would be unwelcome in most stadiums in the world. It's no wonder that some voices in the game are advocating that her name be stripped from the eponymous edifice in Melbourne. Court's words, not the life choices of athletes, are the aberrance in this context.
"Tennis is full of lesbians,'' Court, 74, told a radio interviewer in Australia during what can only be described as free-associating comments. It must rankle her, then, that another Grand Slam event elected to name its complex after Billie Jean King, whose leadership in the realm of gender equality overlapped with the end of Court's career. History will record King as one of tennis' most transcendent figures. Court's legacy grows ever more muddled.