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Rhythm blues

Sports | What was originally intended to be a step forward for women in professional sports may have actually turned out to be two steps back

Issue: "Iraq: Unity in adversity," Feb. 12, 2005

From the start, Sally Anthony, pop singer and owner of the American Basketball Association's Nashville Rhythm, made it clear that Ashley McElhiney was her pet project. Women's groups hailed Ms. Anthony when she hired the former Vanderbilt star to become the first female to coach a men's team on the professional level. But just 25 games into the season, Ms. Anthony lost interest, berating her young coach (owner of an impressive 18-7 record) and firing her after a game on Jan. 29.

But should anyone have been surprised that Ms. Anthony was so assertive with her new coach? After all, she had stated that she didn't just want to operate a basketball team, but use it to advance women's causes in sports. "I've said from Day One that my goal was not only to put a competitive team on the floor, but to give qualified females opportunities they are not normally afforded," said Ms. Anthony when she hired Ms. McElhiney last spring. If she would buck tradition by hiring a 23-year-old woman (and not even a seasoned female basketball coach), why wouldn't she buck tradition again and demand that her coach submit to her whims?

Before Ms. Anthony owned an ABA franchise, she was a recording artist touring as an opening act for Tom Petty, the Black Crowes, and Alanis Morissette. She laced her debut album with vaguely Christian themes, but seemed to drift to edgier, more experimental territory. Ms. Anthony renounced record deals, choosing to sell her CDs independently. Her latest, Vent, bears an explicit-language warning.

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Some saw the decision to hire Ms. McElhiney as a publicity stunt. The Rhythm head-coaching position would be Ms. McElhiney's first experience as a coach, though she did serve for a few months as a film analyst for the Ohio State women's basketball team. The young coach, however, thrived. The Rhythm began the season strong and, despite her age and gender, she commanded her players' respect.

But apparently not her employer's. An in-game coaching move ignited Ms. Anthony, who leapt onto the court, shouted at Ms. McElhiney, and after the game fired her. The next day, reports surfaced that Ms. Anthony, only a one-third owner of the Rhythm, had been rushed to the hospital after taking a potentially fatal concoction of the anxiety drug Xanax and alcohol. A 911 call record revealed that Ms. Anthony had also used scissors to slice up her arms.

It's not yet clear whether Ms. McElhiney will indeed be fired. Ms. Anthony is only a part owner of the franchise. Regardless, what Ms. Anthony had originally intended to be a step forward for women in professional sports may have actually turned out to be two steps back.

Around the Horn

· Tedy Bruschi's rising stock has reached the Pro Bowl. After Ravens star Ray Lewis announced he would not play in the awards game, the AFC replaced him with the Patriots linebacker. This season, Mr. Bruschi has become the face of a previous no-name defensive unit for the Patriots. He has surpassed all Patriots-even Tom Brady-in jersey sales.

· If the question is how much lower can Maurice Clarett's draft stock drop, the answer is not too much lower. The back who fought, unsuccessfully, for early entrance into the NFL didn't show up at a workout for pro scouts leading up to the NFL scouting combine. His new agent, Steve Feldman, took responsibility, saying he didn't want Mr. Clarett to risk injury. "This guy will blow people's minds at the combine," he said. "That's why it seems ludicrous to jeopardize it at this point."

· Hockey fans in Detroit now have familiar faces to watch. The uniforms might not be familiar. But while the labor struggle continues in the National Hockey League, Red Wings Chris Chelios and Derian Hatcher signed with the nearby Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League. Currently, more than 300 NHL players are earning paychecks in Europe.


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