Agassi’s mea culpa

Brad Gilbert, Andre Agassi’s long time tennis coach, takes a no-harm, no-foul attitude to the crystal meth revelations, but Harsha Bhogle is not quite as forgiving. The core of Harsha’s argument is contained in this clip:

At the best of times it’s a flawed equation, this assumption that a fine sportsman is a fine person, but it exists and I fear Agassi may have given people reason to indulge in drugs.

Precisely the problem I find with the fuss being made of Agassi’s revelations. We know him, and followed him, for his brilliance as a tennis player — whence the need to elevate him into a template for us to live our lives by? Put differently — isn’t it enough that a sportsperson entertains us in his or her chosen domain of activity, which is what they get paid to do? Is it also necessary for them to be worthy of canonisation?

If Agassi had taken performance-enhancing drugs, it would have been quite another matter: that is cheating pure and simple, and goes against the grain of what we expect from sport. By no stretch of the imagination, though, can crystal meth be called a performance-enhancer — the opposite is true, if anything.

So the worst you can say about this situation is that the man did recreational drugs. Is that something I would want my child to emulate? No — but then, I wouldn’t want my child to emulate my experiments with drugs either [quite a while ago, so those raised eyebrows of yours can come right back down; outside of an occasional joint, I don’t indulge now].

In any case, what are the tennis authorities supposed to do now, publicly defrock Agassi, strip him of his many titles? The question of his legacy is in any case not grist for the official mill — a player’s legacy is in the minds and hearts of the followers of his sport; some will likely gasp in indignation that they were suckered into emotionally investing in a druggie, while others will remember those moments of incandescent brilliance he brought to the game, and forget the rest.

In course of random browsing just now, I refreshed my memory of just what the man brought to his sport. Way back in the late 1980s, US tennis was looking for a savior — and found a temperamental, tempestuous talent [here, dating back to that time, is an early appreciation on Sports Illustrated]. What struck me about this piece is the glimpse of what such enormous national expectations can do to you:

So desperate are tennis fans in the United States for a new crown prince that not even juniors are spared the scrutiny. When Michael Chang won his first match in a main draw at the United States Open last August, the question was heard again. ”Is this the one?”

Aaron Krickstein knows about expectations. He was a phenom at 17, ranked No. 7 in the world. Surely, this was the one. By the time he was 20, he was considered washed up, dropping to No. 61 last year. Krickstein has only recently begun to show he may survive, after all.

Later in the same year, the media was already proclaiming the end of its search and the anointing of the new crown prince of American tennis [in passing, check out this article on what it takes — and takes out of you — to be a teen star]. From there to here has been a memorable ride — and despite that hit of crystal meth, I find my own memories of the man remain largely untarnished [incidentally, IMHO Harsha is a bit off base when he compares the Agassi episode with the Roman Polanski affair — in doing drugs, Agassi hurt no one but himself; what Polanski did was a crime on another person].

Here’s the lengthiest extract from his book that I’ve been able to find; I’ve got a print out for reading at home tonight, but even a quick glance indicates there is more to this book than a hit of crystal meth — our thirst for scandal being what it is, though, it is only that one episode that is consistently hitting the headlines.

In passing, some — including Harsha — have suggested that maybe we would all be better off if Agassi had kept some facts to himself. Again, I’d want to disagree: in interviews, in the profiles that proliferate in magazines and newspapers, and even in their books, sportsmen too often tend to dishonesty. I’d far rather read of, and learn from, a flawed human being than be treated to the whitewashed ‘memories’ of a putative ‘saint’.

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6 thoughts on “Agassi’s mea culpa

  1. Pingback: Page not found « Smoke Signals

  2. I dont understand the people who are criticizing Agassi, I for one admire him for his candor.

    As an aside an interesting theory floated by some including SI tennis correspondent.

    “A source close to Agassi offered a third explanation. Inasmuch as Agassi is considering a future in politics, his dalliance with crystal meth qualifies as a “skeleton in the closet,” the kind of unflattering tidbit that, if brought to light at an inopportune time, could derail an election. By coming out with the admission now, Agassi preempts any embarrassing “gotcha” scandal and gets to control the message. I have no idea if this true, but it might be worth bearing in mind.

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/jon_wertheim/11/02/agassi/index.html#ixzz0VoR2VhQx

  3. Agassi, IMHO comes across in his revelations (wig, drugs, lying…) as an insecure, phony and an image-conscious liar. There is no reason to believe that there is nothing more that he is hiding. Pat Cash could be on to something here. Also, Agassi himself has called it the “central lie” and not the only lie. I strongly believe he is doing this to sell his book.

    However, I do feel the media should be asking more questions of the ATP for letting him off so easily while punishing others like Peter Korda for the same offence.

  4. What Agassi has done is increased scrutiny for honest players like Nadal. And is it our thirst for scandal or his thirst for selling the books by creating an unnecessary controversy. Tennis as a sport is in decline in US and even an interesting personality like Agassi need a controversy to sell books out here.

  5. Amongst the tennis glitterati who matter as of now, the only person whose indignation has made sense has been Rafael Nadal’s; he believes that the ATP was wrong in letting off Agassi implying a travesty of justice on those who have been punished for similar indulgences.

    Having read through whatever extracts were available online, I seem to get the sense that here is a player candidly revealing more than what he is required to through an autobiography. The “I can win this thing with one swing” quote on the Wimbledon final matchpoint would have satisfied the fans. But, here apparently is a man who wants to get a few things off his chest. Besides, I don’t think Agassi is in dire straits that he needs to put his reputation and legend status on the line to earn a few more bucks from book sales enhanced through such revelations.

    Interestingly, Pat Cash whilst offering a sensible explanation on behalf of Agassi (and the ATP) also suspects that the American may actually have been up to more than he would ever dare (or care) to admit. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/tennis/article6898034.ece

    But Prem, why a mea culpa yourself? Why, oh why?

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