Sunday, November 22, 2009

Andre Agassi is "Open"

It comes as no surprise to me that Andre Agassi's new book, Open, has risen quickly to No. 1 on the New York Times best seller list. Since excerpts of the book leaked out, I have frequently been asked by students and colleagues about the admissions that Agassi used crystal meth and that he lied to the ATP after failing a drug test. While nothing much surprises me anymore, I wondered why Andre chose to reveal this information now--including the fact that he HATED tennis. Early in his career, Agassi was often criticized for not living up to his "Image is everything" persona, as revealed by ads for Canon. In those commercials, audiences saw the image of a "rebellious" Agassi running his fingers through his long-flowing hair. The first reaction to Agassi's tell-all came from a student who was shocked to hear that Agassi wore a weave to obtain that look! As Paula Vergara wrote on Twitter, people seemed more surprised by Agassi's admission that he wore a weave than by his confession that he used crystal meth and lied about it!

In my Sport History class, I have always defended Andre Agassi, arguing that he should not be considered an "anti-hero," despite Benjamin Rader's suggestion that he was. Instead, I have touted his accomplishments, since he became one of only a handful of players to win a career Grand Slam in tennis. Furthermore, I argued that his establishment of Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy more than atoned for his earlier indiscretions.

So, how can we understand the indignant responses to revelations in Andre Agassi's autobiography from so many in the tennis world? Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal expressed shock, while Marat Safin suggested that Agassi should return all of his trophies. Martina Navratilova likened Agassi to Roger Clemens, when she said that she felt “not as much shock that he did it as shock he lied about it and didn’t own up to it. He’s up there with Roger Clemens, as far as I’m concerned." Really? Andy Roddick was one of the few to offer compassion when he said: “Andre is and always will be my idol. I will judge him on how he has treated me and how he has changed the world for the better."

In Andre Agassi's appearance on "60 Minutes" with Katie Couric, he spoke candidly about hating tennis, while asking for compassion about other confessions in his autobiography. I'm not sure which of his confessions have drawn the most ire, but I get the impression that some people feel as if Andre committed the unforgivable sin by admitting that he hated tennis! So, why is that such a threatening confession? I think because it destroys the myth that being a professional athlete must be the greatest avocation in the world. How many kids grow up thinking that if only they can become a professional athlete, they will be the happiest person in the world? What if that isn't true? Worse yet, what if there are other athletes who feel like Agassi? Maybe that's the most threatening reality of all!

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