Thursday, March 3, 2011

Give Great Bowlers More Respect

During last week’s U.S. Open, two excellent bowler profile articles appeared in the New York Times that had more in common than I would like to think.

The first was about Walter Ray Williams Jr. It began with the words: “The man many consider the best bowler in history arrived at the United States Open virtually unnoticed.” Later, it described how he “parked his motor home in the lot, walked into the site of the United States Open--his favorite event and one he has won twice--and received roughly the same reception as everyone else in the building.” I also remember someone commenting on PBA Xtra Frame recently that there were very few people watching Walter Ray bowl qualifying.

How is it that this man, of whom Norm Duke is quoted as saying, “He’s the very best, I think, ever,” receives so little recognition outside or even inside his sport from sports and bowling fans?

The article attributes much of this to Walter Ray’s self-described “loner” personality. No doubt there’s some truth to this, along with the fact that Walter has never been a flashy player or personality like, say, Pete Weber. But does one of the greatest bowlers if not the greatest bowler of all time need to be a raging extrovert or a master of flamboyance to receive his due from no less than the bowling fans who flock to major tournaments such as the U.S. Open?

Can you think of any other sports where active all-time champions can walk amongst their biggest fans “virtually unnoticed”? I’m not a golf fan, but Jack Nicklaus never struck me as a particularly outgoing or flamboyant guy, and neither does Tiger Woods, yet neither had any trouble being noticed if not mobbed by adoring crowds. So, why not Walter Ray Williams Jr.?

Some might say it’s because bowling fans are too intelligent or classy for hero-worship. Oh, they respect what Walter Ray has accomplished, but they’re too cool to let it show. Too “cool” to even stand behind him and watch professional bowling’s all-time champion and seven time Player of the Year bowl in a big tournament?

The second New York Times article was about Kelly Kulick. It detailed her unbelievable season last year and how little recognition, beyond an initial flash of limited media attention, and financial reward she received from it all. “No endorsement offers. No big payday...No calls to appear with Oprah, Ellen, or Rachel Ray, which she really wanted. No lasting mainstream recognition. No new car,” says the article. And I’m guessing that she doesn’t receive much more notice from bowling fans at tournaments than does Walter Ray despite her miraculous accomplishments last year.

Why does bowling draw so little appreciation from even its own fans that even its biggest stars go “virtually unnoticed”? And how can bowling thrive at the professional or any level as long as this continues to be the case?

I’m glad America’s premiere newspaper featured articles about these two great bowlers last week. But if bowling fans themselves don’t start giving players like Walter Ray and Kelly Kulick more attention and respect, professional bowling's future doesn't look very bright.

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