The WT&A has gone way too far

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

If Serena Williams wants to prowl about centre court in a cat-suit smashing forehands, as she did at the U.S. Open, I say more power to her.

I myself grew up watching Julie Newmar ply her feline feminine wiles on Batman and never once did I indulge in some sort of purile adolescent fantasy about her.

Nope. Ours would have been a pure, meaningful love.

But Serena is 23 years old.

A lot of grown-up male people are leering over Maria Sharapova, the reigning Wimbledon champ and as crushworthy an athlete as any but for one troubling fact.

She is all of 17 years old.

Look, athletes are as good a subject for crushes as actresses.

There's nothing wrong with crushes, like my crush on Julie Newmar or someone else's crush on Bobby Sherman or my daughter's crush on Chad Michael Murray or Jan Michael Vincent or whatever the guy's name is.

Kids are supposed to have lovely little crushes. They're supposed to pin up the latest posters from Tiger Beat. They are supposed to pledge their undying love in person, on the phone or on MSN.

They are supposed to scream for A-Rod when he comes to the plate, just as they did for Andre Agassi when he was in the middle of his unfortunate tie-dye denim and long hair phase.

But it gets weird when the adults start leering over the kids. To use the clinical terminology, it's icky.

Really, really, icky.

The WTA, the Women's Tennis Association, soon to be known as the WT&A, is the purveyor of the eye candy still known as Anna Kournikova who parlayed top-50 skills and a hot body into a staggering business empire.

Kournikova is semi-retired, still a fetching lass at 23 but, perhaps by the sad standards of our culture, starting to look her years. So somewhere, deep in the WT&A, the call went out for a fresh face, and whatever else it was attached to.

The WTA has taken it to a new level with Sharapova. A WTA tournament poster features Sharapova with the tag line: "The closer you get, the hotter she gets."

Did I mention she was 17?

Now, I am not going to get in the way of Anna, I mean Maria Sharapova, and her ability to make a living and I am absolutely sure that Canon, Motorola and all the other companies who have signed her up to endorse their stuff are fixated on her formidable skills and not the fact that she likes to wear low-cut tops and very short skirts.

The pony has long since gone through the gate. As Williams herself said, "If you're not ready to sell pictures, then you shouldn't be part of the tournament. Unfortunately, I hate to say it, but sex sells."

Heaven knows, it's not like teenagers aren't hyper-sexualized in the mainstream media and the halls of their local schools.

As Tonight Show host Jay Leno put it awhile back, "have you seen the things high school girls are wearing? What's left for the hookers to wear?"

But maybe the WTA could be a little more circumspect. Maybe just treat her as an athlete, just an athlete, until she's old enough for her first drink.

Let's leave the crushes on Maria Sharapova to the kids her age or even younger. Then the pitiful middle-aged guys could leer at women of comparable vintage.

In my case, someone just a little younger than Julie Newmar.

Say, Halle Berry.


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