—FM, October 10, 2002
Thus started the Summers Tennis Watch. And with each passing week, tension mounted. The Harvard community held its collective breath, waiting to see if Larry Summers and FM’s Ben Mathis-Lilley, Ben Wasserstein and Kenyon Weaver would meet on the court. The odds didn’t look good. Our first proposal to Summers’ office, sent almost a year ago, had received a polite but firm “no.” Our second proposal, sent in the fall, had received a polite but firm complete lack of response. Hoping to turn up the heat, we inaugurated the Summers Tennis Watch, a relentless if ostensibly futile Summers-provoking campaign in the pages of the magazine. It seemed very unlikely that the president of the world’s most prestigious university, a former Cabinet member, a man profiled by the likes of “60 Minutes” and The New Yorker, would pay heed to a semi-weekly barrage of juvenile insults (“You’ll be begging for hippies to take over your office when we’re done with you!”) and insulting juvenilia (see illustration of Summers, paunch out, barraged by tennis balls) from the staff of a shoddily distributed and quasi-pornographic student publication. As we noted in a moment of bitter self-reflection during week three:
“Mass. Hall sources have been unable to ascertain whether University President Lawrence H. Summers will accept FM’s offer to play an informal match of doubles tennis, whether he has even heard about FM’s offer to play an informal match of doubles tennis or, for that matter, whether he has ever heard of FM Publisher Kenyon S.M. “Backhand” Weaver ’03.”
But we would never give up, no, not ever, at least not until week five when we started to really let things slide. When our term as FM editors ended in December, it appeared that our weak lob of hope had been crushed by the overhand smash of Presidential indifference. The Summers Tennis Watch seemed as useless as the doubles alleys in a singles match. And then, out of the blue, the word came...the Prez was ready to play. Incredibly, as the following Nixon Tapes-esque transcript of a Crimson interview with Summers shows, three “journalists” whose greatest previous accomplishment was the periodic production of “Gossip Guy” had peer-pressured the former Secretary of the Treasury:
MAN: And the last [question] is that the [FM editors] still want to challenge you to a tennis match. [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE] They promise that this isn’t a sarcastic thing [OVERLAPPING VOICES].
MAN: Wasserstein and [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
SUMMERS: I’ve been trying to say yes to this for six months. And—
SUMMERS: And you guys have been, and the system has been [OVERLAPPING VOICES], I don’t think the system trusts Fifteen Minutes.
SUMMERS: But they’re having the, they’ve been having like the When Will Summers Play Tennis Watch in every issue. [LAUGHTER] It’s making a fool out of me. It’s hard for me to believe it can get that much worse. So, Lucy, could you make sure that we get a tennis game scheduled in Fifteen Minutes?
WOMAN: [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE]
When we heard that “woman” had said “[unintelligible phrase],” we knew. The Summers Tennis Watch was over. The Summers Tennis Game was on.
Ben D. Mathis-Lilley ’03
Tennis Experience: Varsity doubles, junior and senior years of high school. “We were in Michigan’s Saginaw Valley League, which included Midland, Saginaw and Flint. The other school from Midland beat us all the time. When we played Flint, we usually had to explain the rules of tennis. We beat them sometimes.”
Signature Shot: Weak backhand groundstroke into bottom of net.
Last Tennis Game: Two summers ago. Barely defeated extremely out-of-shape roommate, who smoked cigarettes during changeovers.
Cabinet Positions Held: President (St. Brigid’s Elementary School).
President of Harvard University: No.