Agassi: Bringing Down Credibility

Some call it a publicity stunt to hit the limelight and headlines again daunted by the post-retirement low-lying. Some call it cathartic; revelations deep from the heart of a tortured genius. Some even called it a planned strategy to hike the sales of his upcoming autobiography. If shock was the intention, it hits the shock value scales at full throttle. The Andre Agassi saga has us riveted to the core. The present kings of the court, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have publicly and explicitly shaken their heads at him. No mincing of words there. He has removed tennis from the throne of purity. Agassi’s confession to have used banned drugs and having hoodwinked authorities into believing that his positive drug test was the result of a spiked drink brought down the credibility of the game. Kings of the court will always be looked at with suspicion and their words not taken at face value now.

This is not the first time that tennis is being mired in a cocktail of drug use allegations and confessions. Many tennis greats have lost their crown due to the bane. Greats of the likes of Martina Hingis. But this draws its uniqueness from the fact that perhaps for the first time a tennis king was coming out with a confession on print after more than a decade of having been given a clean chit. Some might applaud him for this cataclysmic revelation. But the blunt truth is, his misdemeanor is nothing to be applauded. That argument stands as lame as the act of celebrating a wife-beater wannabe on national T.V for his “courage” to acknowledge the monster inside him. Agassi has brought the integrity of the game down by indescribable notches. One wonders why a former tennis great would come ‘clean’ about his past dirt in a book. Is money the motivation? If the amount he makes from his charitable organizations is to be believed, it cannot be the only incentive. Was it the desire to come out in the open about his troubled childhood with a violent father who used to hustle money on his 9 yr old son’s tennis skills? His proclamation of having ‘hated tennis’ silences advisors whose mantra for success in the field seems to be ‘a great love and passion’ for the sport.

According to Agassi, vengeance is the biggest motivation to win.

His confessions bring to light the imperfect system of drug trails in tennis and exposes the dangers of equating ‘genius’ with ‘honesty’. ‘Genius’ commands respect and the world protests angrily when their sporting heroes are treated like criminals in drug tests. But this incident brings to the fore the need for stringent tests and the need to get behind the real story behind a positive drug report. A game of passing the buck began. But the question is, did the sport benefit from the revelation? Maybe it did. This might be a watershed event for drug tests to be taken more seriously. Did it hurt the game? Yes. It might not do to tennis what the match fixing scandal did to cricket as cricket is a team effort while tennis is a one-man (or ‘two men’ show) at the basic. But nonetheless, the game suffers. “If Agassi can do it, anyone can” becomes the mob mentality. It unavoidably brings to the stage his illustrious wife, Steffi Graf and one wonders if the tennis biggie knew about these revelations beforehand. She being hailed for playing tennis the way it should be, cleanly.

My mind turns around as uncomfortably as former tennis greats might be turning in their graves: people who swore by fair play. It has me in a split state. On one hand it exposes the flaws in the system, on the other, it has dethroned Agassi from my mind. Sportsmen’s salaries draw out of their fans’ pockets. A fan, no matter how die-hard, like to pay to see a genius wheeled by drugs.

A sport is ultimately the test of a sportsman’s resilience and hard work and drug abuse, even if it is to forget the dark side of life and its trials, is a sacrilege of the institution. I assume that, now that Agassi is out of the tennis scene, his disclosure will not invite corrective action. It is indeed unfair that he should be left of the hook with the promise of millions in book sales while the game is reduced to mockery. There is no mechanism in sight to bring him to book.

As impossible as it might sound, his worst punishment would be to shun his book. If making millions was the motive behind it, it should not play out as reality. But everyone loves a good scandal and his book is bound to be a best-seller while the world looks on at the irony…

Shruthi Venukumar

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