Tennis great John McEnroe was promoting his new book, called “But Seriously,” when he got himself into hot water recently.
Speaking to an NPR reporter, McEnroe said that 23-time Grand Slam women’s singles champ Serena Williams would not fare well on the men’s professional tennis tour but was the greatest female tennis player. McEnroe was roasted for comparing Williams to men’s players and Williams, currently expecting her first child this fall, took to Twitter to shut McEnroe down.
McEnroe told the reporter that if Williams played on the men’s tour, she’d be ranked “like, 700th” in the world.
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Well, McEnroe appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert Tuesday and although Colbert gave him plenty of opportunities to walk back his statement, Mr. “You Can Not Be Serious” just couldn’t quite do it.
Told that he may “have stirred the pot in a way you rarely have in the past” by Colbert, McEnroe began to tell his side.
“It didn’t go over big with my daughters either,” McEnroe said. “You remember (the TV show) the Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden? ‘Me and my big mouth’” making a joke by using the catchphrase of the popular series’ signature character.
But McEnroe went on.
“We were talking to someone on NPR radio and she was asking about Serena,” McEnroe said. “I said Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player that ever lived. I think she’s absolutely tremendous. She followed up with, ‘Why do you have to say female tennis player? Isn’t she the greatest tennis player ever?’ I said ‘Wait, wait, wait, whoa. Wait a second here. If we’re gonna talk about that, you get into a little different category. Did that say that about girl basketball players? Are they as good as Michael Jordan?’”
Colbert interrupts him here.
“They might say women’s basketball players,” Colbert said.
Colbert admitted to giving McEnroe what he called a “lifeline” to roll back his comments. McEnroe did later say he felt Williams was one of the greatest athletes of the past 100 years. But he also offered up the following:
“People always ask me, ‘Can you beat Serena Williams?’” McEnroe said. “My girls don’t think I can beat her now. I thought I can beat her. She’s pregnant so maybe I should play her now. I’d have a better chance, but either way, I wish her the absolute best. She’s the best thing that’s happened to American tennis in the last 10 to 15 years.”