She’s Not in It for a Net Gain : Avid Fan Suffers Slings, Arrows as a Low-Paid Tennis Umpire, but Loves Each Vicarious Minute
Lois Goodman has received dirty looks from John McEnroe. She has been the target of Jim Courier’s sexist remarks and has heard enough bickering among the world’s best tennis players to lose track of who said what.
And the 52-year-old Calabasas resident loves it.
Goodman, an avid tennis fan for most of her life, got a job 15 years ago that allowed her to stand on the court with the world’s top players. She became an umpire.
Through the years she has seen the sport’s biggest names up close: Jimmy Connors, McEnroe, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova. And the list goes on.
Last week she worked at the Virginia Slims of Manhattan Beach, where she officiated about five matches a day at the Manhattan Country Club.
Early in the week she served as a linesman for a first-round match between this year’s Wimbledon champion, Conchita Martinez, and two-time NCAA singles champion Lisa Raymond of the University of Florida.
No biggie. Goodman has served as an official at the U.S. Open and Australian Open for eight years and the 1991 Davis Cup in Hawaii. She also works at the men’s annual Volvo tournament at UCLA and is a regular at NCAA matches. She does about 15 tournaments a year.
“It’s exciting,” Goodman said. “This is my favorite sport and I’m out there rubbing shoulders with the best players. There’s no real way to describe it.
“Working (the Virginia Slims) is great. The players are wonderful and they’re courteous and they appreciate good officiating.”
But that isn’t always the case. Goodman also deals with athletes who make rude comments and fans who often taunt her.
“You just can’t let anything bother you,” Goodman said. “And you can’t take anything personally. If you do, you’re in big trouble.”
Goodman won’t mention the name, but said a top male player once told her she should be “at home having babies.”
“A lot of men players feel women should not be calling men’s matches,” Goodman said. “Jim Courier has made no secret about the fact that he doesn’t like women umpires.
“He has said publicly that women should not call lines in men’s matches. Well, right after he said that he got almost all women umpires in one of his matches and he noticed it and said, ‘Look at all the lady umpires. This must be on my behalf.’ That was fun.”
Many of the men, however, are polite and respectful. Goodman says Pete Sampras, the world’s No. 1 player, is always that way.
“He’s wonderful,” she said. “He is always quiet and he really doesn’t show much emotion. It’s great because with a lot of the men, you just never know what they’re going to do.”
Even Stefan Edberg, the mellow Swede who rarely displays emotion, made a sarcastic gesture after losing a match in which Goodman called him for foot-faulting three times.
“He turned to me and bowed a couple of times, waving his hands like, ‘Thank you very much. I lost because of you,’ ” Goodman said. “You just have to laugh at things like that. We’re just out there doing our job.”
Goodman says women’s matches are easier to officiate. They are usually cordial and respectful, and their method of disputing a call is mild compared to most men, she says.
“You look at players like Chris Evert and Martina, that’s class with a capital C,” Goodman said. “They are just gracious. With most women we never have any problems because they are more mature.”
Fans usually aren’t, Goodman says, and they tend to side against officials, though on one occasion the crowd agreed with her.
Andre Agassi had served what he thought was an ace. Goodman called it out.
“He carried on and complained and complained,” Goodman said. “Then he came back to the line where I was standing and asked the crowd behind me how they saw the ball. Everyone yelled that the ball was out and he got real mad but he came up to me and said, ‘I stand corrected. I apologize.’
“I wanted to smile but we’re not even allowed to. We’re supposed to have a deadpan face.”
Umpires can’t interact with players or fans and they must get permission from a supervisor before speaking to the media.
One night, however, at the end of an exhibition match between Navratilova and Connors at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Goodman broke policy.
As the match proceeded, several unruly fans behind her kept saying her calls were so off she must have cataracts.
“Well, at the end I looked up at them and said, ‘Not only can I see well, I can hear well too!’ They were very embarrassed,” Goodman said. “They couldn’t believe I heard them or that I would say anything.”
And it’s not as if Goodman is raking in big bucks to take all this abuse. Umpires make $60 to $120 a day depending on how big the event is and often that means 10 to 12 hours of work.
“You have to be able to afford to be an umpire,” Goodman said. “You do it for the love of it. I really think it complements my life.”
Goodman and her husband have owned an auto parts business in Los Angeles for 32 years.
The couple and their three daughters lived in Tarzana for more than 20 years before moving to Calabasas.
Goodman began playing tennis socially at the age of 20 and was a regular at the Braemar Country Club in Reseda.
That’s where she got into officiating. A fellow club member was recruiting prospective umpires and Goodman signed up.
“Now she’s one of the most-dedicated umpires out there,” said umpire Sylvia Watts, who flew from her home in England to work at the Virginia Slims. “She obviously enjoys it a great deal and she has the perfect personality for it because she has a great sense of humor.”
How else could she take all the complaining and criticism that comes with such a low-paying job?
“It’s a difficult and thankless job,” Goodman said. “Players always thank volunteers and ball kids but they never thank the umpires. Never!”
And rarely do they apologize for sexist comments or dirty looks.