Misty May-Treanor reigns as one of the beach volleyball greats. Her three consecutive Gold Medals, one of the greatest winning streaks in sports history, and dominance of the AVP Tour solidify her name in the beach volleyball history books.
Every single player knows at least a handful of her numerous accomplishments. Men and women idolize her, try to emulate her style of play and strategy. Her name has transcended the game; any sports-loving American likely recognizes Misty May.
But hers is one of the few names who has made it beyond the boundaries of our sport. Meanwhile, other athletes seamlessly populate everyday conversation. Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, and Peyton Manning have all taken root in the American psyche.
And they’re not the only ones in their sports – Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio are three more baseball legends. The NBA’s Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James prove household names. And just sticking to Michael Jordan’s winning Bulls team – most people can recall Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Don’t even get me started on those football guys’ notoriety.
Golf and tennis have some of the highest-paid and most internationally-recognized athletes, people like Tiger Woods and Serena Williams. Even athletes outside of the Big Four sports like Jeff Gordon and Mike Tyson are staples in sports history at large.
I’ve known the athletes I listed above since childhood – names uttered by classmates on playgrounds, by Smalls and Benny in Sandlot, and by my brothers spending all their allowance on trading cards. I played indoor volleyball since middle school, and even I only knew a handful of the best players in the game. Why aren’t beach volleyball players so readily recalled or welcomed into Halls of Fame?
At the heart of that inquiry: why isn’t our sport more mainstream?
Therein lies the question every beach volleyball player asks themselves on the regular. Go to any AVP tournament, watch any match, and you wonder why the whole world isn’t obsessed with the game. High-flying, fast-paced action, gorgeous and barely-clothed men and women, all on a beach? Yes, please.
There are a million proposed answers to this unanswerable question – why is beach volleyball not more mainstream? I’ve spent hours in conversation discussing this very query – all to no avail. So if anyone is going to get close to the potential answer, it’s our GOAT. Misty thinks our sport is missing the historical element – a proper appreciation of past players and the game’s evolution. And if we had that, we’d improve and grow the game.
Apart from Misty, Kerri, and Karch – whose names are recognizable outside of the people who consider our sport their favorite? And even within that category, many high school players (and some pros) don’t know Tim Hovland and Elaine Youngs, even with their impressive accomplishments.
Why is that, and how can we improve?
“I think one of the things the game is missing is education,” Misty says. “The veterans retire and the young players, even indoor, they don’t understand the history of the game or the players. I think that’s one thing overall in our sport that everyone could get better at – looking back at the history. And not just Kerri and me. But like, you’ll mention Elaine Roque, and people will look at you like, ‘Am I supposed to know that person?’
“To me, you should know who Annett Davis and Jenny Jordan are. Because young football and young baseball players can name players back in the 40s. Where are they getting that? That’s just something ingrained in them. I think you’ll find the [current] athletes, not that they lack respect… but maybe that respect for the sport isn’t there as much as it was back in the day.
“I think it all starts with education. Coaches should educate their players. It should get passed down. Coaches should say, ‘I want you to go back through the years, pick a player to learn about, and then report it to the team.’ Just so it doesn’t die. I feel like it’s dying.”
This conversation inspired me because I, admittedly, could use a lot more beach volleyball education. Misty makes me want to read more about Elaine Roque (whom I didn’t know), watch more film on YouTube, and reach out to former players to learn from them. In my ideal world, I’d write a book about the game – the evolution, the history, the players. If anyone wants to bankroll that for me, let’s chat.
I know the first person I’d speak to.