Shyness is something from which John McEnroe has never suffered.
Last Sunday on NPR’s Weekend Edition (not a place you usually go for sports news), McEnroe got into a little hot water over his comments about Serena Williams.
McEnroe told host Lulu Garcia-Navarro, as he also says in his new book But Seriously, that Williams is the “best female player in the world.” But “if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like [No.] 700 in the world.” That prompted a Twitter rebuff from Williams and criticism elsewhere.
In a conference call with reporters this week in advance of ESPN’s Wimbledon coverage, which starts Monday, McEnroe said he could have chosen his words more wisely.
“It would have been better not to have said it. I didn’t realize it would create something like this,” he said. “It would have been easier to leave it. Look, she’s a great player and it’s apples and oranges.”
He’s right. It’s different. Men and women both play tennis, but it’s obviously a different game with different styles, different strategies, different levels of power, even different rules with men playing best of five sets and women best of three.
Still, Williams’ play has been so dominant, it’s hard not to think she could beat quite a few men. However, McEnroe could’ve found a better way to express his opinion. In addition to shyness, McEnroe has also never suffered from an overabundance of tact. While trying to compliment Williams, he wound up belittling her.
“This is not something that has been earth-shattering, that I feel there’s a difference in the level of the women and the men,” he told the reporters, “though I was trying to say how great I thought Serena was and how good she’s been for American tennis.
Tennis, of course, had its famous “Battle of the Sexes” at the Houston Astrodome in 1973, in which Billie Jean King, 29, defeated Bobby Riggs, 55, and it seems as if tennis — even with its mixed doubles format — has always been interested in comparing men to women.
“I don’t think it’s relevant,” McEnroe said. “That’s part of the frustration that I’m having, that people keep talking about it. It doesn’t seem like we hear about it in other sports. I know Bobby Riggs played Billie Jean  years ago, but I continue to sort of not understand why this is such a topic of conversation. If so, have the men and women play together. If the women want to do that, if that would be good for tennis, I’m all for trying things that would be good for tennis. I don’t understand why tennis seems to be the only sport that this is talked about.”
NASCAR telecasts shift over to NBC this weekend for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The race starts at 4:30 p.m. PDT Saturday on NBC, but it’s a good idea to tune in a little earlier at 4.
NBC will have a prerace essay on Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will be in his final race at Daytona. The essay will be voiced by Ken Squier, legendary NASCAR broadcaster and 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame member.
You know Earnhardt, but you may not know that Squier helped convince CBS executives in 1979 that people would watch wire-to-wire coverage of the Daytona 500.
“It was a tough sell,” Squier said then. “There was a general feeling that this was more of a novelty thing and that it wouldn’t work on a national level.”
But January was a slow time for sports back then and the ’79 Daytona 500 was helped by an East Coast snowstorm that kept people inside. Also helping was an infamous postrace fistfight between Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison. It was fascinating television and helped cement NASCAR as a TV staple.
WINNING THE WORLD
The College World Series finals, with Florida sweeping LSU, drew an average of 1.9 million viewers in “total live audience” (TV and streaming), according to ESPN.
The network said it was the second most watched sweep in finals history and the most watched since 2014.
The viewership is up 72% from the 2016 finals, which went to a decisive third game, and up 32% from the last finals sweep in 2013.
The entire 16-game CWS averaged a total live audience of 1.1 million viewers, the highest since 2014 and up 56% from last year.
BETTER THINGS TO DO
Times are getting rougher for sports cable networks as audiences dwindle.
SportsBusiness Daily reports a big majority of the networks had declining viewership in the second quarter of this year. The only network to increase from last year was NFL Network, which was boosted by its coverage of the NFL draft.
NBCSN had total-day increases, but its prime-time audience was down 5% and at its lowest level since 2012, despite NHL playoff game coverage.
ESPN had its lowest second-quarter viewership since 2013, despite NBA playoff coverage. The network was down 9% from last year, but was still the No. 6 cable network overall. ESPN2 was down 17% in prime time and down 31% overall, ESPNU was down 10% and 19%. Fox Sports 1 was down 30% and 15%.
UP & DOWN THE DIAL
The BIG3 three-on-three basketball league had 398,000 viewers in its first national telecast Monday on FS1. … The NBA draft had 3.42 million viewers Thursday on ESPN, up 14% from last year, according to SBD, but 9% below the top viewership record from 2015. … The NBA Summer League starts Saturday with four games from Orlando on NBA TV at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. … Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski is joining ESPN as an NBA analyst. … Showtime announced the start of a project on the NBA’s “impact on global popular culture,” to be shown in 2018, headed by LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Gotham Chopra. If nothing else, it’ll at least have three of the most interesting and/or strangest names in TV history. …
The Tour de France starts at 6 a.m. Saturday on NBCSN with a 5 p.m. repeat. … The U.S. Swimming Championships will air at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday on NBC. … The Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight from Brisbane, Australia, will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. It’s the third of three fights. … The World Cup of Softball starts Wednesday and ESPN has just signed a multiyear contract to show it. The first U.S. game is at 4 p.m. next Thursday against Canada. … Where’s Joe Davis this week? In San Diego with the Dodgers on SportsNet LA. The “Fox Saturday Baseball” game this week at 4 p.m. will be Yankees-Astros, shown to 73% of the nation. …
NESN, the regional network that shows Boston Red Sox games, had originally intended to show taped coverage of the roast for the retired David Ortiz, but the jokes told by the roasters, including New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, were so filled with profanity, vulgarity and extremely poor taste (including about former Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who recently committed suicide in prison), the network had to cancel it.