Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why Isn't Kelly Kulick a Star?

"Hello? America? This is the equivalent of "Man Gives Birth!" It's never happened in any ball sport in American history. Kulick, 32, should own Page 1. Somebody should throw her a parade. Or at least a state dinner. Instead, she's gotten one free hair coloring. That's the highlight...Zero. Nada. Zilch. She has to keep checking her phone to see if it died.."
--Rick Reilly, ESPN The Magazine

When Kelly Kulick won the Tournament of Champions a month ago, many in the bowling world were very excited. I was one of them. I wrote in my blog the next day that Kulick's performance was the greatest bowling moment I'd ever witnessed in the almost fifty years that I'd been following the sport.

Some predicted that Kulick's victory would give men's and women's professional bowling a tremendous boost, and they wrote glowing accounts of the media's enthusiastic coverage of Kulick's feat immediately after the fact. However, I was more skeptical. Yes, for a few days after Kulick's accomplishment, she was a minor media darling, appearing on TV news and radio talk shows. But I still didn't see what I was hoping to see, and I said as much in a blog entry:

"I began searching online for media reactions to Kulick's achievement and saw a demoralizingly small number of mostly brief and tepid articles about it apparently penned by writers obligatorily going through the motions of reporting a story they cared nothing about. The real kicker was what someone scornfully wrote in the comments section of one of these lackadaisical articles. A close paraphrase of his comment is: "Kelly, how do you feel winning an insignificant championship in a sport nobody cares anything about?" My heart sank when I read this. Then I got angry. Then I realized that this person probably spoke for the majority of this football (both kinds) obsessed country and beyond and probably always would and that there was absolutely nothing I or Kelly Kulick could do about it."

A little later, I read this article on pba.com criticizing an article by David Whitley that asserted that bowling is not a sport because in real sports the best women can't beat the best men. It also seemed to me that the interest in Kelly Kulick's TOC title was fading fast and that, in no time, almost nobody was talking about ir anywhere, even among us bowlers. I predicted that Kulick's victory wouldn't be the "bowling tsunami" sweeping the sport into new realms of fame and fortune that some thought it would be but that it would likely have some kind of positive impact on the sport. But now I'm not so sure. And after reading Rick Reilly's gloomy article in ESPN The Magazine titled "The greatest moment in women's sports," I'm even less sure than I was before. In fact, I'm feeling downright demoralized.

Reilly says that Kulick's victory and Kulick herself have, in fact, received astonishingly little recognition from the media and public at large given the true magnitude of her accomplishment. He writes:

"Danica Patrick beats men in an auto race and she's on TV more often than the Geico gecko. Why isn't Kelly sifting through huge endorsement deals?...In golf, people turn 1260 McTwists when Michelle Wie nearly makes a men's cut. In tennis, Billie Jean King's thumping of a 55-year-old man is hailed as the greatest thing for women since the sports bra.Kelly Kulick? Who dat?...Listen! She beat 62 of the best male pros -- straight up -- in arguably the Tour's creamiest event, the Tournament of Champions. And she beat them like egg yolks. She beat Chris Barnes, the No. 1 bowler on the Tour, by 70 pins in the final! That's like beating Emeril by three hams!...So why is she getting no love? Why isn't she known across America as Queenpin? Why isn't she doing Letterman's Top Ten?"

Kelly Kulick's answer to this question is, "Beats me. They hate bowling?"

Maybe "hate" is too strong a word. "Indifference" seems more like it. Maybe Rob Stone is right. Maybe we need to inject more excitement into the sport But whatever we need to do, we who love bowling better do it fast before the sport we love dies from apathy and neglect.


  1. We need to remember that when we have three million league bowlers in the United States and another 40 million that bowl once in a while, there are more than 300 million Americans who do not bowl. For most of them, watching some one roll a ball 60 feet to knock over some pins is less than exciting. For those of us who are bowling addicts it is more fun than a lot of other things and we need to do something to help the rest of the world understand why it could be fun for them also. Take someone who has never bowled bowling this week.

  2. Jim, your points are well-taken. But I suspect that more people bowl than play golf and I don't think that watching golf is any more exciting than watching bowling for the uninitiated, yet, as Rick Reilly points out, a dominating Michelle Wie victory over, say, Phil Mickleson for a major championship would probably garner a lot more attention than Kulcik's TOC championship. And when Billy Jean King in her prime beat a male tennis senior citizen, the world went wild. Now maybe that was partly because tennis is inherently more exciting than bowling. And maybe, as I much as I hate to admit it, Rob Stone is right when he argues that bowling needs to be turned into something more exciting as well.

    At the very least, I think you're right that more people need to be introduced to the sport, and I think it should begin with kids being given good coaching and lots of encouragement from the very beginning, the way they are in the house where I bowl. Debbie Haggerty runs the junior program there, and she is one of Bowlers Journal's top 100 coaches in the country, and she was also voted national junior coach of the year. Her program is producing an exceptional crop of junior bowlers who are highly skilled and enthusiastic about the sport. At least, they're more enthusiastic than most kids who seem, to my eyes, too jaded by excess to be very enthusiastic about anything.

    Unfortunately, I doubt that most bowling centers will come anywhere close to doing what mine does, and, in the meantime, poor Kelly Kulick will continue to languish in relative obscurity even though she deserves much, much better.

    Come on, Oprah. It's not too late to invite her on your show.

  3. Steve, I tried to give the moment some significance in my blog post the day after Kulick's win:

  4. Tommy, great post on Kelly Kulick's TOC title, and thanks for calling my attention to your outstanding bowling blog. Its title, Bowling Philosophy, manages to combine two of my greatest passions in life. I look forward to following your reports and ruminations on a regular basis from here on.

  5. Turning the PBA TOUR into a circus is going in the wrong direction. They need to change up the way they present bowling on TV to newbie's and regular folks, who do not understand bowling, but i know for sure who enjoy throwing a ball down a lane whether it be once a week or a few times each month.

    While there on the air for 1 hour 30 minutes, the commentators should always be informing the viewer, about each bowler, there equipment, why there only attacking certain parts of the lane, etc, etc. I think the PBA would be going in a MUCH BETTER DIRECTION by replacing Randy Pedersen & Rob Stone.