Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai earned her right to address the United Nations the hard way.

Malala was shot in the face by the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley last October. She, and her father Ziauddin, had been activists for education for girls in Swat, and had incurred the wrath of the Taliban.

The day she spoke to the UN, July 12, 2013, was her sixteenth birthday. She had been an activist for the right of girls to get educated in the Swat Valley ("my Swat" as Malala calls it) since she was twelve, and wrote a blog for the BBC. She had been continually warned by the Taliban, who demonstrated their seriousness by leaving headless bodies in the town square, that she would be killed if she continued to speak out.

Her speech to the UN, delivered beautifully in distinctively accented English, was absolutely riveting. She spoke with an otherwordly calm self-possession that can only be earned through deep commitment, suffering, and survival.

Her message has grown from education for the girls in Swat Valley to empowerment of all worldwide through education.

The job may not be big enough for her.

Judge Debra Nelson

Judge Debra Nelson, a former substitute school teacher and county prosecutor, was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to the Circuit Court in Florida in May of 1999. She was chosen to sit on the Zimmerman case by a lottery selection process of Florida judges.

Before the Zimmerman trial began, she was reasonably well known in the Florida legal community, and totally unknown outside of the state. For the 15 days of the Zimmerman trial, she was the best-known judge in the world. Her every move was analyzed and dissected by millions worldwide.

One TV analyst described her as, "An equal-opportunity curmudgeon." If being quietly competent, decisive, and prepared makes one a "curmudgeon", she qualified. She exerted total control of the courtroom while allowing each side reasonable latitude to make their best case. 

She respected the gravity of the occasion. She had the mother and father of a dead teenager in the same room with his admitted killer, and the parents of the killer. She successfully ensured an orderly and fair proceeding.

While the supporters of Trayvon Martin and his family are justifiably hurt and disappointed by the acquittal, the fact remains that the prosecution was unable to present a coherent picture of the final few minutes of the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin that would justify a guilty verdict.

The prosecution was able to suggest what might have happened. They didn't establish what did happen. That's not good enough for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

For those of us who think the end result of the matter is disturbing, at a pit of the stomach level, the good news is that the Martin family still has remedies against Zimmerman in a civil suit for damages, and the federal government can bring a prosecution against Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights.

P.S. The message of the Zimmerman verdict is that, in Florida, an armed person with extensive martial arts training can: 1) Do everything short of physical contact to precipitate a fight with a smaller person who has a legal right to be where he is; 2) Get himself punched in the nose; 3) Shoot and kill the person he provoked; and 4) Suffer no legal consequences.

Marion Bartoli

Marion Bartoli of France was not expected to have a good Wimbledon.

There were 128 women in the field. The London bookies had her as a 150-1 long shot. Although she had been to the Wimbledon Finals once before … losing to Serena in 2007 … she hadn't won any titles in 2 years.

Everything about Bartoli as a tennis player is different. She didn't spend years at a tennis academy, as many of today's tennis prodigies have. She was taught by her medical doctor father, who gave up his practice to learn how to teach tennis and serve as her coach until February of this year.

When she was seven years old, father and daughter attended the French Open, and saw the great Monica Seles win the Championship playing two-handed on both the forehand and backhand sides. Bartoli copied the style, and has played that way since. She is the only player at the top of the men's or women's game to do so.

The style shortens a player's reach but, if the timing is mastered, it enables a player to hit the ball early with power and dictate play. It fits Bartoli's quirky and relentlessly competitive on court demeanor: practice swings on both sides before returning serves, fist-pumps after every winning point. She's a dynamo incapable of playing a boring match.

After winning the Wimbledon Championship, Bartoli was told about the observation of a particularly boorish BBC commentator John Inverdale, to the effect that she didn't have the classic "look" of some of the tall blond players like Maria Sharapova. Bartoli's response was pitch-perfect: "I did not dream of a model contract when I was six years old, but I did dream of winning Wimbledon. Mr. Inverdale can come to the Wimbledon Championship Ball and see me in high heels … he might change his mind."

Marion Bartoli, Wimbledon Champion, my feel-good sports story for July.


This is a special post. I will post again on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 (or before, if the news flow dictates) and, for the time being, I will post on the first Wednesday of each month.

Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.