No offense to the WTA championships and Serena Williams, but the big news in tennis this week is and will be for some time Andre Agassi’s stunning revelation that he used crystal meth during the 1997 tennis season.
By now I’m sure you’ve read the story. In his forthcoming autobiography “Open” which hits bookshelves on Nov. 9, Agassi admits to using the banned substance in 1997 and then lying about it to dug officials to avoid suspension.
“Slim is stressed too. He was with his girlfriend recently, he says, and the condom broke. Now she’s late. He announces that there’s only one this to do. Get high. He says, You want to get high with me? On what? Gack. What the hell’s gack? Crystal meth. Why do they call it gack? Because that’s the sound you make when you’re high. Your mind is going so fast, all yu can say is gack, gack, gack. … As if they’re coming out of someone else’s mouth, I hear these words: You know what? F..k it. Yeah. Let’s get high. Slim dumps a small pile of powder on the coffee table. He cuts it, snorts it. He cuts it again. I snort some. I ease back on the couch and consider the Rubicon I’ve just crossed. There is a moment of regret, followed by vast sadness. Then comes a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head. I’ve never felt so alive, so hopeful, and I’ve never felt such energy.”
– excerpt from Sports Illustrated
While I’m saddened and disappointed by the news, I’m not terribly shocked (shocked moreso that he voluntarily confessed) . Recall Agassi was the punk rocker dude with the long, flowing hair, the florescent tights and brash attitude. Hell, one could argue that Agassi must have been high just to have picked out some of those flamboyant ensembles.
But as we have seen with star athletes with more money, more fame, more attention and more access comes more temptation. And at that point the choice is there in front of each of them: Do I go the right way or the wrong way? In this case, Agassi, like so many other athletes and celebrities today, succumbed and chose the wrong way.
“After a loss in D.C. in July, I decide to shut down for the summer. Though we were married in April, Brooke is in Los Angeles working and I spend much of the summer in Vegas. Slim is there, and we get high a lot. I like feeling inspired again, even if the inspiration is chemically induced. I stay awake all night, several nights in a row, relishing the silence. No one bother me. Nothing to do but dance around the house and fold laundry and think.”
Luckily he emerged without an addiction, got his head right and in this decade at least he’s been one of the true ambassadors in tennis and really in all of sports for the way he’s handled himself and for what he’s done. That is up until now because for many this drug confessional will leave a stain.That said, I’m on the fence on this one. On one hand Agassi deserves some praise for making such an admission when he just could have kept quiet. On another, what’s the end message, the bigger picture here from Andre? After all, Agassi does run a school in Las Vegas for unprivileged kids and now he has to tell those same kids and his children who look up to him not to do something he did and lied about?
For me it just sends mixed signals.
“I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have.”
And the takeway for those kids may very well be, “Hey, if it’s okay for Andre to do it it’s okay for me. I want to feel so alive, so hopeful, too!”
With his drug reveal “open”, hopefully Agassi use this opportunity, his celebrity, his upcoming book signing/talk show circuit and the piles of cash he’s going to make from this book to speak out against drug use and meth addiction. Being the statesmen that he is I think he will.
And of course there are plenty of questions to be asked. Twelve years later, why now? Did he ever use before a match? How long did he use meth? Who else did he use it with? Did he try any other drugs? Where did Agassi test positive for meth? Did the ATP/Doping officials throw out any other cases similar to Agassi’s? Did he ever seek treatment? Etc.
“My father says that if hit 2,500 balls each day, I’ll hit 17,500 balls each week, and at the end of one year I’ll have hit nearly one million balls. He believes in math. Numbers, he says, don’t lie. A child who hits one million balls each year will be unbeatable. Hit earlier, my father yells. Damn it, Andre, hit earlier. Crowd the ball, crowd the ball. Now he’s crowding me.”
While his drug use in the book has grabbed all the headlines, Agassi also speaks frankly about his childhood and his relationship with his father, Mike, who drove him to become the No. 1 player in the world. He also talks about hating tennis, his back injuries and of course Steffi, Brooke and much more.
Once the book is made public and further details and anecdotes of his career emerge it will be fascinating to see what ultimately happens to the image of a man who once said “image is everything”.
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