Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Updated: September 3, 3:52 PM ET
Don't hate her because she's beautiful

By Stacey Pressman
Special to Page 2

I've stooped to a new low. I'm not afraid to admit it.

I just spent spent two days of my life stalking Anna Kournikova. Well, "stalking" might be too harsh. Let's just say I made sure to position myself in her presence. Luckily for me, Yom Kippur is right around the corner, because I'm sure God is waiting for my atonement.

Yeah, I know. Pathetic.

Anna Kournikova
Did you know Anna is secretly attracted to guys who play video games?

But I had to. She was coming to NYC and I had to see what Anna-mania was all about. I needed to check her out in person. Watch her interact with others. Judge her for myself. See if she's worth all this hoopla.

And I'm here now to confirm the obvious.

She is.

Like you, I've read the press clippings, heard the private she's-a-monster "Annacdotes," watched the "E! True Hollywood Story" about what a snotty little over-hyped diva she is. I've heard the talk on the women's tour that Anna is a side show and a circus act and that she has never won a singles event. That in the end, endorsements should be "win" deep rather than "skin" deep for female athletes.

Puh-leeeeezz. I've always been somewhat sympathetic to "Anna-conda." These nay-sayers, mainly feminists and the politically correct, are clearly hostile to the fact that it's human nature to revel in beauty and aesthetics. Besides, it's not like we just gave Claudia Schiffer a tennis racquet. Anna has made more than $3 million in career prize money. She has been ranked as high as No. 8 in singles and has won 18 doubles titles, including two grand slams. Those are hardly signs of an athletic failure. But let's continue to beat Anna up. After all, she's pretty, and we all know that pretty girls need to suffer.

She was going to be in New York City at a video-game store on 33rd and Broadway, shooting promotional footage for XSN Sports, Xbox's new line of video games. So I checked it out.

(Want further proof of the video game cover curse that claimed Mike Vick a few weeks back? Kournikova and Pete Sampras -- one injured and the other retired -- grace the cover of Microsoft's new tennis game. Not to mention, as I was in the store waiting for Anna I got a buzz on my pager which sent me news that Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson had left practice with an injured heel. Of course, I immediately looked up and saw his mug on a huge poster promoting Sony 989's NFL Gameday 2004. Yikes!)

There I was in a video-game store worried about LT's injury and waiting for Kournikova to arrive. I was definitely having a Greg Brady, Hawaiian-tiki-idol moment.

The Microsoft people were frantically making sure that when Anna pushed a big red button, a curtain would drop and the game would be unveiled behind her. It was imperative that they get this to work, since that was really the point of her being there. Those boys were slaving away.

Ryan, the go-to-person responsible for making sure everything went smoothly, was pacing. He thought for sure she would be late and uncooperative. He even asked me to count the number of times she'd say "No" to his requests.

The expectation in the store? They were preparing to deal with a super-hot vapid celebrity twit.

Anna Kournikova
Admit it: you've dreamed of this exact moment (OK, maybe minus the football helmet).

My purpose for being there? To observe a super-hot vapid celebrity twit.

Ryan's cell phone rang at 4:36 p.m. It was Anna's driver. Ms. Kournikova was four blocks away.

Wow. Four blocks away and 24 minutes early. How un-Diva-like!

The black GMC Denali pulled up in front of the store; and without much of a red-carpet fuss Ms. Kournikova entered in a tight, pink adidas half-shirt which revealed her amazingly flawless figure. Her signature long blond locks were down and flowing. A size-4 waist and a Brazilian bikini wax were the only conceivable solutions to the riddle about how she could wear her grey hot pants so low. And a can opener would be the only way to get them off.

There was no entourage -- just Anna and her agent.

Kournikova is stunning. There is no question about that. Maybe she was wearing a little too much makeup -- a girl that beautiful shouldn't need an ounce. But, then, she was making television appearances all day, and who knows how many makeup artists had dusted her cheeks. And I overheard a guy say she smelled like a stripper. (I had to ask him exactly what a stripper smells like. He reassured me he didn't mean it in a dirty, skanky way, but rather in a wearing-too-much-body-spray type of way.)

When she arrived, Anna immediately kissed most of the guys involved in the product launch. Two kisses each, European-style. She was by no means shy or standoff-ish. When she finished her meet-and-greet, she went to the curtain to unveil the video game. She was standing by the big red button -- the big moment. You could sense the if-this-doesn't-work-I'm screwed angst emanating from the set designer.

About to take her cue, Anna suddenly belted out, "How funny if this doesn't work? You sure it's gonna work?" She was joking, teasing the poor Microsoft underlings.

Not to worry. It worked.

Then came two on-camera sound bites. She was telling the camera, or trying to, how great XSN Sports is for Xbox. Between her accent and the fact that those words are a Cindy-Brady-stuttering mouthful, she screwed it up about 10 times.

Finally, after a little self-deprecation and a lot of sticking out her tongue in disgust with herself, she finally made it through.

Anna was holding a football video game, so I asked her if she likes football. Her face lit up.

Anna Kournikova
"How was your first day of junior high?" "Not too bad, I stopped by the video store on the way home and saw Anna wearing pants that are illegal in 12 states."

"Oh, yeah, I do," she said.

I asked her what her favorite team is.

"Definitely the Kansas City Chiefs."

An oddball choice. "Why the Chiefs?"

"I met, like, 10 of them a few weeks ago, We did some exhibition thing and they were all really fun. I want them to do well."

This all made sense after realizing she plays World Team Tennis in Kansas City.

She looked at me with a silly, yet inquisitive, grin and said, "Oh, and wait. Who's that one guy?"

Hmmm. I thought to myself. Who's that one guy? Gee, this is a tough one. Deductive reasoning, logic, rocket science and Confucius say ...

"Uhh, Tony Gonzalez?"

I said it like a catty teenage girl standing in front of a high-school locker.

Anna furrowed her brow and shook her head as if the name wasn't registering, and then shrugged her shoulders.

Now, I certainly am not in any position to make overarching assessments of Anna Kournikova's character based on one hour. But my time with her belied her reputation and my preconceived notions.

She isn't always a diva. She was punctual, agreeable and arrived with no entourage.

She's engaging and friendly. She kissed everyone hello and goodbye.

She's self-deprecating and funny.

She's a sports fan. We knew about hockey. Now I know about football.

And she's human, just like the rest of us girls. I pulled the Kansas City Star clips about her appearance with the Chiefs. No. 88 is mentioned.

When she left, the people still in the store appeared to be as stunned as I was. I reminded Ryan exactly how many times Anna had said "No."

The Diva tally: Zero.

I expected the Wicked Witch of the West. I saw Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.

Maybe I just saw her on a good day. Maybe she was so nice because she didn't know she was talking to a writer. She had no idea who I was, nor did she know I was planning to write anything about her. But her friendly vibe made it easy to engage.

Anna Kournikova and Jeff Bezos
Oh, Anna, you're the funniest girl I know! I can't believe you want me to pinch your cheeks!

I also met her in an environment far removed from the pack journalism with which she regularly deals, and which no doubt can put anyone on the defensive.

Let me briefly take you to day No. 2 of my Anna-pa-looza Tour: Shock Absorber Bra Launch, Grand Central Station, New York City.

Anna made an appearance with Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, who clumsily introduced the lovely Ms. Kournikova as if he was a rented birthday clown speaking to a group of 8-year-olds. This audience clearly was more interested in riding the ponies than his insipid balloon-making.

After his Bezos-the-Clown routine, Mr. Amazon flawlessly morphed into Kevin Spacey from "American Beauty," lusting after his daughter's best friend. I get embarrassed for people very easily. His antics were creeping me out.

My sole objective at this Grand Central media circus was simply to see if Anna recognized me 14 hours later. For me, that would have been a true sign of character.

But the experiment proved futile. The crowd was too large and overwhelming. Cameramen practically came to blows over lens space. People pushed and shoved each other just to catch a glimpse. Because of my lack of height, I do not fare well in these Times-Square-on-New-Years-Eve situations. I always end up like Jeff Van Gundy at the bottom of a bench-clearing melee.

I couldn't deal. Not to mention, I was wilting in the heat. I backed off and positioned myself away from the crowd, but close enough to hear the questions the media had for Anna.

It was here that I caught a glimpse of the she-might-be-a-monster reputation, or -- in the WTA colloquial -- her "Anna-tude."

But in fairness, how many times should she have to answer these questions?

Anna Kournikova
Anna plans to master the tennis game she's buying -- maybe that way she can win a singles tournament.

"Hey, Anna, how does it feel to have all this media attention when you're not a proven winner?"

"Hey, Anna, do you think your babe-dom takes away from your tennis?"

Those are always the questions.

You see in her body language that these questions clearly agitate. She answers curtly, with a coquettish smile. Yes, it comes across as fake, snotty and stuck-up. And, hey, she very well could be all of those things.

But it's clear that Anna has a sexual persona and moxie that feeds her success and, in turn, vexes most feminists and the politically correct.

As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, I've come to realize it's in a man's nature to evaluate and sexualize a woman's persona before he gets to the more important matters of the day: intelligence, aptitude, athletic ability, sense of humor, what's for lunch, etc.

Rather than fight it, we women need to accept it and deal with it. Beauty is not a male-created invention designed to shackle, oppress and hold us back, as I heard over and over in my fancy-schmancy waste-of-time women's studies classes back in college.

Anna, to me, is what today's feminism should really be about: a woman wielding confidence, beauty, femininity, athleticism and intelligence to cultivate a multi-million dollar empire, which in the end ultimately benefits women, women's sports and gender equality.

I recognize I am whipping out the world's smallest violin for a multi-millionaire athlete. But it would behoove us as women to celebrate, promote and rejoice in Anna Kournikova's accomplishments, both on and off the court, rather than resort to petty sniping about her lack of a singles title.

Drop the Anna-mosity. She should be embraced.

Stacey Pressman is a freelance producer for ESPN and a contributing writer to Page 2. She can be reached at StaceyPressman@aol.com.