September 16, 2009

I think the US Tennis Association (USTA) may need to begin channeling that famous ABC Sports tagline: "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."  As I watched the new US Open champion, Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, struggle to say a few words in his native Spanish at his trophy presentation ceremony, I said to myself: something is not right here.  Full disclosure: I have done some community relations work for the USTA in the past.

For those of you who missed it, Del Potro was understandably quite emotional after de-throning the #1-seeded Roger Federer, to win the 2009 US Open.  Del Potro asked CBS Sports anchor Dick Enberg to be allowed to say something in Spanish.  The first time Enberg responded by saying that there was no time.  Today we learned in the New York Times that CBS and Enberg were obligated by the USTA's contract with corporate sponsor Lexus, to allow the Lexus rep to present the trophy while they were still on-air.  You know, where's Univision or ESPN Deportes when you need them?

I don't know if Lexus sells cars in Argentina but I thought, that Lexus rep may have endeared herself to del Potro, Argentinians and Hispanics all over, if she had just grabbed the mike from Enberg and handed it to del Potro.  Heck, she may have sold some more Lexus cars.  I understand the USTA's and CBS's predicament, but honestly, if I had been in that situation, I WOULD have grabbed the mike from Enberg because it would have served everyone's purpose--including my company's.  Hey, sometimes in sports, it's all about smart, snap thinking.

Look, I consider myself to be a corporate type and have negotiated many a sports sponsorship contract (from both the side of a corporate sponsor and the side of event organizer), but that ABC Sports line still resonates with me.  In many ways sport is defined by emotion (think the Mexican soccer team playing the US team at Azteca Stadium), and when you don't let emotion trump everything else, you defeat the soul of sport.

The del Potro incident reminded me of a recent Miami Herald story about the USTA's efforts to reach out to Hispanics, and specifically, a quote from the USTA director of player development Patrick McEnroe.  When asked why there is not a single US Hispanic player on the WTA or ATP Tour, he told the newspaper: "I wish I had the answer to that question."  Imaginate.  It's quite challenging when there are tapados calling the shots.  When I read McEnroe's other comments about Latin Americans and US Hispanics, I concluded that he saw us as one and the same.  Then I saw the del Potro incident.  The USTA may just need some ayuda understanding the Latin corazon.

It's a shame that it's been 60 years since a US Hispanic (Mexican-American Pancho Gonzales) won a US Open.   To its credit, the USTA has hired some Hispanics in its player development division but clearly, it can use some talent in its executive ranks.  The USTA also had an court ceremony commemorating Gonzales' achievement (for the record, the US Open spelled Pancho's last name as "Gonzalez" in its press release).

But the sad thing is that the USTA may be overlooking some of that proverbial "low-hanging fruit," right in its own backyard.  When the Yankees were constructing their new stadium in the Bronx, the nearby recreational center was negatively impacted.  And who can we find in the Bronx?  Hint: Obama found a wise Latina there.  The White Plains, NY-based USTA could be doing more to develop urban Latinos in New York City, in Chicago, in Houston, in LA.  Hey, maybe if they set their mind to it, they can find the next Charlie Villanueva of tennis (Villanueva is the Queens, NY-bred, Dominican NBA player who recently joined the Detroit Pistons).

Or maybe the USTA can find the next Mark Sanchez of tennis (Sanchez is the southern California-bred, Mexican-American quarterback who just had a spectacular debut with the NY Jets).  On this Mexican Independence Day, that has a nice ring.

Comments

Hey Manny, Here's my letter to the CEO of the USTA East: Mr. D.A. Abrams, I am writing to you to offer my firm's assistance with something that I found out about through the Hispanic Ad and communications trade press. I was informed that the recent winner of the US Open Juan Martin Del Potro requested a moment to say a few words in Spanish and was declined from doing so in his victory interview with Dick Engberg, becuase in Mr. Engberg's words, "their's no time." My concern here is two-fold: 1) As a US born Hispanic who likes to follow prfessional tennis, I felt let down and am disappointed with the USTA and the US Open. 2) This simple gesture is something that could potentially appease Hispanic fans of the game by showcasing the views of players like Del Potro, Nadal and others who are heros in our communities. I'm certain that I do not have to remind you or your organization of how many new Hispanics those few words could have brought to the game of tennis in this country and it further indicated to many that your organization takes this audience for granted. I am not certain if this is the case but the message was certainly there and I think this is bad for tennis, bad for US Hispanics and Hispanics globally in addition to being very bad for your organization as one of the principal proponents of the game and its future generations of players. I would like to offer the services of our PR firm and myself as a communications professional-who happens to be Hispanic/Latino-to ensure that this valuable and affluent audience with over a $trillion in disposable spending income is not ignored or made to feel ignored with this type of treatment. How on earth could there not be any time for one of the top players in the world to speak for a few extra seconds in Spanish to generations of present and future tennis players. The man just defeated Roger Federer for god's sake. Is this 'on message' for your oganization? If it is, I and many others like me, around this nation and the world, are not happy. Please understand that my concern and my offer are legitimate. Even if you do not hire our agency to handle this, you need to handle this somehow, and make certain that this type of situation does not reoccur. Best regards, Jose Manuel (J.M.) De Jesus President & CEO QUADRANT TWO PR The Galaxy Towers 7000 JFK Boulevard East, Suite 25 I Guttenberg, NJ 07093 (646) 234-7196 jm@q2pr.com

I watched in agony as Dick Enberg brushed off Juan MartÃn Del Potro's simple request to speak in Spanish after conquering the greatest tennis player of our generation, Roger Federer. Was it insensitivity? Perhaps. Was it stupidity? Absolutely. The USTA has miles to go in its understanding of U.S. Hispanics. Yet, I believe the initial reluctance of Enberg allowing Del Potro to speak in Spanish is tied to one thing and one thing alone -- dollars. The message sent is not that the tennis world is insensitive to Latinos. The message I got was that professional sports is now in danger of putting the sponsor ahead of the athlete. The first thing that raced into my mind was, "My god ... the USTA is getting so much money from Lexus that they have to get their client face time - and thus they're cutting off the man who slayed the king!" It was not, "¡Oye! Let the man speak en español!" Again, the USTA has much work to do to cultivate and nurture U.S. Hispanics who may have an interest in tennis. it's been a long time since Pancho González (for the record he spelled his name with a "Z" and "S" interchangably over the years). Who will be our next Pancho González? The more appropriate question is, 'When will this person arrive?' Enberg's antics were embarrassing to CBS and the tennis world, but not because the USTA doesn't understand Hispanics. It was embarrassing because the power of the purse won the tournament. Yes, the Lexus representative could have handed the microphone to Del Potro. But they paid good money for the opportunity to hand those keys to the champion. For those who tuned to the match, Del Potro's acceptance of the car keys - and his reaction when told by Enberg how many millions of dollars he'd just pocketed - was one of strained politeness. All the champion wanted to do is say thank you - in his own language. And once he did, the glee of the biggest day in his life finally shined through. That's what merits a true champion - and one that any marketer should be clamoring for.

This is a topic for a long debate. But I just would like to add one thing about Univision, ESPN Deportes, Telemundo or any other Spanish-language media outlet for that matter: tennis is not a popular sport among US Hispanics. Tennis is not even that popular among Hispanic sportscasters and/or reporters. In Latin America, with the exception of Argentina, maybe Chile, and the well-heeled venezuelans, brazilians and a handful of talented ecuadoreans, tennis is still --mostly-- played by the upper and middle class. USTA? Back in May, John McEnroe told the New York Times "I haven’t figured out a way to walk through that brick wall, which is the U.S.T.A.,” McEnroe said. “There’s a lot of politics involved," he added. I mean, if the legendary John McEnroe, who grew up in Douglaston, Queens, a winner of 4 single US Open crowns and many more titles in doubles, a stalwart David Cup player, etc., cannot get the USTA's attention, how can you expect this organization to pay a little more attention to Hispanic/Latino players? As a sports reporter, I covered the Open for many years, and prior to that, having lived so close to the National Tennis Center (Forest Hills, Queens), I used to attend the tournament as a fan. All I can say is that, during this time, I saw very few Hispanics/Latinos at the USTA (whether it be players and/or at the executive/management/administrative/PR level.

I wish that at least once, I get a chance to read an article or commentary about Latinos or Hispanics, depending on the subject, where the author doesn't reach for the very old bag of writing tricks and pulls a word in Spanish in the middle of a sentence written in English. What is the intention here? to make us feel included? to add flair to the prose? By the way there are Gonzalez (as in Quarterback Tony) and Gonzales (as in Pancho) just like there are some that go by Manny or Mannie. We can't get Washington to pay attention to us, do you really think that an elitist sport like Tennis is worried about the Latino viewership? Also, ESPN does broadcast Grand Slam events to Latin America "en Español"

As an Argentine native I was very proud of Del Potro's win, and was a bit shocked by Enberg's initial refusal. Fortunately for him and CBS, he allowed Juan Martin to address the listeners in Spanish. Insensitivity to ethnic groups' needs and aspirations is a universal phenomenon, and there's still a lot of that in this country. I believe, however, that things will get better as long as we maintain an honest and unbiased dialogue on both sides, not an easy task. Stereotypes die hard. Fear, resentment, chauvinism, and a host of other human feelings and behaviors are the result of one major factor: ignorance. Ignorance keeps us from understanding, reaching out, loving, accepting without conditions. Let's fight for knowledge, understanding, enlightement, across ethnicity, age, gender, within and beyond our borders and the comfort zone we're so intent on protecting.

Antonio, your points are well taken and I must commend you for your diplomacy: you both condemn and defend US Tennis. You condemn them for being elitist (and ignoring Latinos) and you defend them for being culturally insensitive (or sloppy at best). I often get my last name spelled Gonzales, but I take pride in honoring how my great grandparents chose to spell their surname. The least the US Open folks could have done is asked Pancho's surviving relatives. For the record, you google his name and both surnames come up.

Manny: The only way to bring change is by getting the spotlight. Martin del Potro is the new star of professional Tennis, his identity (if he chooses to do so) will become relevant, any entity looking to associate their brand to him will have to take that in consideration. Borrowing your phrase: "It's the money stupid"

Great angle on the whole matter. Thank for sharing your point of view. Take a look at what we wrote and see the video, which hopefully doesn't get removed by CBS. http://latinminds.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/en-espanol-del-corazon

I was also very upset when Enberg didn't allow del Potro to speak, when days before, they have been breaking up "the protocol" by interviewing not only the winners, but the losers, as it was the case of Georgian Melanie "Believe" Oudin when she lost to Wozniacki. Also, when Wozniacki was being interviewed, not only she spoke in English, but then she spoke in two additional languages. Poor del Potro... he's a nice guy... it was HIS MOMENT.... and from this experience, he'll learn his lesson to be a bit more aggresive. But at least, he spoke and spoke with a heart. Nothing beats talking in your own language and expressing your own feelings.

Si tanto se preocupan por el español, escriban en ESPAÑOL!!!! Me dio mucho coraje que Dick Engberg le dijera eso tan frio y cortante. El pobre muchacho se quedó en una pieza. Después parece que le alaron las orejas y lo dejó terminar....Si feo estuvo lo de Serena mas feo estuvo la falta de cortesia de Engberg....al ganador del US Open? 2 millones de boricuas en NYC nada mas? Imaginate tú!

This is one among many other issues that are just not right. Imagine an Oscar winning director that can not complete his thank you speech. I am sure this will not happen in France when an American wins the Open or the Tour of France. Perhaps those of you that followed the USTA web site during the Open also noticed the lack of quality control and errors in the Spanish section. The USTA had a French and a Spanish language options for the daily updates. The night before the semifinal, the Spanish section of the web site was in French. Fortunately, the error was corrected the next day. I posted a note on a couple of social sites. I am sure that you will not find this kind of pattern in other USTA business. These are not isolated incidents. You outline the perceptions of USTA staff managing player development. The USTA just does not get the market. The Hispanic//Latino talent is there and history proves it. The errors are in the USTA side and the strategies they are implementing for Hispanic outreach.

Rita, thank you for comments. First, I'm happy that you're at the USTA. Second, thank you for the clarification on Pancho's last name (God knows I deal with the same issue everyday it seems), and especially since you worked with his family. I actually proposed to the USTA a couple of years to do something around Pancho Gonzalez so I was pleased to learn about the on-court ceremony on Sep 5. And I certainly appreciate the magnitude of the challenges you face. I attended the US Open on the night that Federer had his marathon match with Soderling and I felt like I was one of three Hispanics inside Arthur Ashe Stadium (the other two were with me). wishing you all the best.

Manny, I have been sent your blog by a few friends, so feel obliged to set the record straight. For the record, Pancho Gonzalez is accurately spelled with a "z" ending. Richard Alonso "Pancho" Gonzalez legally changed his name in the 60's to end with the "z". I know this because I organized the Pancho Gonzalez tribute and I worked closely with his family to make sure that everything we did was factually correct and to their satisfaction and approval - his family actually requested the USTA use the official "z" ending. You will even see the variation in the last names of his seven children - some end in a "z" or "s" depending on the year they were born (before or after his legal name change). The USTA does, in fact, have talent in its leadership ranks and we have focused tremendous efforts in the Hispanic community, but change doesn't happen overnight and we need to do more and we know it. The fact that there are more Hispanics than ever in positions to make a difference at the USTA is a good thing and something we take very seriously. Again, the lack of Hispanics in professional tennis is a complex challenge and will require a multi-faceted and long-term strategy. I'm sure we will have missteps along the way, but the interest, commitment and dedication is certainly present. Sincerely, Rita L. Garza Senior Director USTA Corporate Communications

It’s really a shame; I saw the whole match and the trophy presentation. The USTA has always shown a really good heart for player from all over the world, so is difficult to say if racism was part of this situation. I was really mad at Dick, because if Federer had won the match, he could say and entire essay and people wouldn’t have a problem. It was really sad crack because Del Potro was very emotional on the ceremony. To be honest, I don’t think the UST is to blame here, maybe Dick is not that comfortable hearing someone speaking Spanish while holding de US Open trophy

Leave a reply

Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.