The question, not McEnroe, was out of bounds

The question, not McEnroe, was out of bounds

“You’re killing me, Smalls,” is one of the best lines from any movie.

I have a shirt with a picture of the chubby catcher and that line on it, and it is my favorite shirt. It is a quote I recite more than any other saying. It is particularly powerful when dealing with a silly question.

The Sandlot, however, is so good that the classic line isn’t even the best quote of the movie.

That distinction belongs to the same character, who had the best argument-ending statement of all time: “You play ball like a giiirrrrrrrl.”

The line was directed at Phillips, the leader of the rival ballplayers, and he was shocked.

“What did you say?” he asked Hamilton Porter, the chubby catcher/S’mores aficionado.

“You heard me,” Porter responded, not needing another word. The gauntlet had been thrown down with the subtlety of a nuclear weapon.

That is not even close to what John McEnroe was saying when he said Serena Williams would be ranked “like No. 700” on the men’s tennis circuit.

You cannot be serious if you think his comment during a recent PBS interview was even close to a sexist remark.

The tennis great, who officially became an American sports hero with his 4-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-4 triumph over Bjorn Borg on the Fourth of July in 1981, was simply honestly answering the question of a delusional reporter who said “some people” say Williams is the greatest tennis player ever — man or woman.

Williams wouldn’t even make that claim. She is a great champion, yes. It is not crazy to call her the greatest or most decorated tennis champion of all time — man or woman.

But even at her peak, Williams wouldn’t win Wimbledon if she played with the men.

She would beat more than 99 percent of the tennis-playing men in the world without a doubt. Of those 99 percent, more than 99 percent probably would go down in straight sets.

But she wouldn’t beat the best men. After she delivers her baby, Williams might be able to take down the 58-year-old McEnroe, whose saying “You cannot be serious” was a prelude to “You’re killing me, Smalls,” but she isn’t coming close to Andy Murray.

That is not an insult. That is not a sexist statement. That is just honesty.

My daughter once gave me that label when I honestly answered her question, “Why don’t girls play in the NFL.”

Well, actually, my first answer was, “Aaron Rodgers does,” but she looked past the joke for a real answer.

“Well, honey, women don’t play in the NFL because they’re not good enough,” I said.

“Oh my God, you’re sexist,” she snapped.

I’m not sexist. I just quickly and honestly answered a surprise question. Had I saw the question coming, I could have had a more eloquent answer for my daughter, whom I always told can grow up to be anything she wants, except a linebacker in the NFL.

Once the sexist bomb is dropped on you, tough, it is hard to recover — whether you’re talking to your daughter or being tried in the court of public opinion.

“No,” I said. “I’m just being honest. Generally speaking, women aren’t as big, fast or strong as men. If they were, you better believe women would play in the NFL.”

NFL owners will sign a wife beater if he can rush for 1,000 yards, surely they would sign a woman to play receiver if she would help deliver a Super Bowl ring.

If you have ever found yourself saying something like, “I’m not sexist,” there’s a good bet that you are, indeed, sexist. In this case, I am, like McEnroe innocent of the charge.

While I sometimes joke with my son that he “plays ball like a giiirrrrrrrl,” I know there are plenty of females in town who would kick my butt in every sport possible.

I couldn’t get a hit off of any of the pitchers at Butte High or Butte Central since 1991. I couldn’t last half a round in a fight with Ariel Beck. I’d lose a match of golf to any girl named Hoagland or Ogolin.

Any of the varsity or junior varsity girls on the high school tennis teams in town would beat me in straight sets. I’d get last in the girls’ long jump.

Never for one second would I think I am tougher than my wife because I witnessed the delivery of all three of our children. Sometimes, though, she brings me a jar that she can’t open.

McEnroe, though, wasn’t comparing me, who on a good day is an average man, to Serena Williams. With his answer to a dumb question, he compared her to the top male tennis players in the world.

The fastest man is considerably faster than the fastest woman.

The world record for the 100-meter dash for women is 10.49 seconds set by Florence Griffith Joyner. That is a record that has lasted for nearly 29 years.

Usain Bolt of Jamaica is the fastest man. He ran the 100 in 9.58 seconds in 2009. The guy who got last in that race, Darvis Patton of the United States, finished in 10.34. Patton looked like he was running in sand next to Bolt, and his time was .15 seconds faster than Flo-Jo’s.

That race, though, doesn’t even begin to take anything away from the great Flo-Jo, just like Murry’s nine men’s grand slam titles can’t compare to Williams’ 23 grand slams on the women’s circuit.

Flo-Jo and Williams are two of the greatest athletes of all time. Without question.

Their greatness shouldn’t be diminished by comparing them to men because, in case you didn’t notice, men and women are different.

Don’t blame McEnroe for bringing Williams into a controversy. That was the fault of PBS interviewer Lulu Garcia-Navarro because she set McEnroe up with a really dumb line of questioning.

Following the interview, Garcia-Navarro tried to pile on McEnroe with a couple of tweets.

“Is being the best athlete in the world about pitting men against women? By that metric women can never be best. Should you look at exceptional performances and wins? It’s not a battle of the sexes.”

Garcia-Navarro is the one who turned her interview into a “battle of the sexes.” Had the interviewer asked if Williams was the greatest tennis champion of all time, McEnroe probably would have said “yes.”

As it was, had McEnroe had time to consider his response to the silly question, the man who recently posted a classic video response to homophobic remarks by Margaret Court, probably would have had a nice, eloquent answer to satisfy both sexes.

Instead, McEnroe offered the truth. But, as s Col. Jessup told us, some people just can’t handle the truth.

The tennis legend would have better suited answering Garcia-Navarro with a simple, well-deserved, “You’re killing me, Smalls.”

— Bill Foley, who has fond memories of rushing home from the Fourth of July parade on Montana Street to watch McEnroe beat Borg in 1981, writes a column that appears Tuesday on Email him at Follow him at

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