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eshell
Jul 8th, 2002, 05:28 PM
Dangerous appeal

Playing up sexiness in sports can make for a risky game
Posted: Monday July 08, 2002 11:20 AM



Dubravko Rajcevic and Albrecht Stromeyer are well-known names among professional tennis insiders, but they're not the latest young serve-and-volleyers to rise in the rankings. Rajcevic is a convicted stalker and Stromeyer an accused one, two men who apparently have gone past harmless fan worship of female tennis players and entered the realm of obsession.

Rajcevic, a Croatian-born engineer, was sentenced last year to two years in prison for sending Martina Hingis dozens of love letters, repeatedly calling her hotel rooms, following her at events and appearing at her home in Zurich. Stromeyer, a 33-year-old German, has made a habit of showing up at hotels in which Serena Williams is staying and was arrested several weeks ago when he tried to get too close to her at a tournament. Men like Rajcevic and Stromeyer are the reason that Williams had her own bodyguard close at hand when she won the Wimbledon final over her sister Venus on Saturday.

Although creepy fans certainly aren't exclusive to the WTA Tour female tennis players seem to draw more than their share. Several women on the tour have been targeted over the last few years by disturbed men who want to intrude on their lives in frightening ways. But while the tour increases security at events and tries to find other ways to address the issue of stalking on one hand, it is also contributing to the problem on the other.

The WTA doesn't just sell tennis, it sells sex. It only takes a quick look at the tour's glossy new official magazine to recognize that. There are the obligatory pouty pictures of Anna Kournikova, but it's not just about Kournikova anymore. There are photos of the Williamses in slinky formal wear and plenty of other suggestive shots of various players. The cover trumpets the "Celebrities, Glamour, Profiles, Fashion, Lifestyles" to be found inside. The WTA clearly wants the public to see that not only are the players superior athletes -- but they also have curves in all the right places. It's not just the tour that tries to show off the players' looks. Many players, looking for endorsements, do it on their own.

There's nothing inherently wrong with promoting the attractiveness of the players; using sex to push a product merely puts the WTA in the same class as nearly every other company in this country. There is also no disputing that the women's tour is growing in popularity, largely due to the remarkable skills of Venus and Serena, of course, but partly due to the "glam" factor. The U.S. Open final between the Williams sisters last year drew a rating nearly double that of the Notre Dame-Nebraska college football game that aired against it on another network. But there's a dark side to playing up sex appeal -- sometimes it appeals to the wrong people in the wrong ways.

This is not to say that stalkers are drawn to female tennis players just because they wear short skirts or tight-fitting tops. It is certainly not to imply that because many of them show a lot of skin, the players in any way deserve such unwanted attention. But it doesn't take an expert on the mind of a stalker to realize that sex is part of the equation, and when many of the players are marketed as some sort of athlete-model hybrid, it can feed those deranged fantasies.

Tennis isn't the only sport that has begun to play the sex card in its marketing. The WUSA has distributed glamorous shots of some of its more attractive players, including Philadelphia Charge defender Heather Mitts, for instance. As women's professional leagues try to gain a foothold in the public's sports consciousness, many of them aren't above giving a come-hither look to male fans. The only problem with that is, you never know who's looking back.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Phil Taylor writes about a Hot Button issue every Monday on CNNSI.com.


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