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Born in the USA: An athlete comes clean

Last week shocking revelations regarding Andre Agassi, one of tennis’ biggest stars, came out. Agassi, the holder of eight major titles and one of only six men to ever complete the career grand slam, admitted to tanking matches, allegedly taking speed before junior nationals, using crystal meth and smashing all of his major trophies in a rage. Agassi grew up hating his father and the game of tennis. When Agassi took crystal meth and failed a drug test, he lied to the ATP so that he wouldn’t get suspended. So why is there no palpable outrage as a result of these leaks? The reason is simple (and it’s not because Americans don’t care about tennis).

Andre Agassi admitted to all of these things in his new autobiography, Open, and in doing so demonstrated that the athletes we look at as being superhuman are, in fact, human. Agassi admits to his flaws and missteps and it didn’t take a congressional hearing or a failed drug test being made public for him to do so.

In an age in which fans don’t know which athlete took performance enhancing drugs, cheated or lied, it is refreshing to find someone who is willing to come clean on his own accord. Some fans might be angry to find out that one of their heroes took drugs and cheated (understandably so), but if Agassi is willing to admit to these mistakes, what does that say about who he is today?

This book completes the turnaround that Agassi has gone through over the course of his life. As a kid Agassi was forced by his father to hit over one million balls during a year. He grew up thinking of tennis as a prison and hated the sport and his overbearing father. He came into professional tennis as a player known for his untraditional apparel and playing style. He had long hair (which he now admits was a toupee) and did not fit the conventional mold of a tennis player. He was a dominant player, although overshadowed by Pete Sampras. However, even following his performance at the Olympics in 1996, where he won a gold medal, he was a broken man.

Agassi sunk to number 141 in the world rankings, and that is when he experimented with crystal meth. He withdrew from the French Open that year and barely prepared for Wimbledon. Later, he failed a drug test and had to lie so he wouldn’t get suspended. Then, in 1998, Agassi climbed back into the top 10 in the world rankings, the biggest one-year jump in history. After this, Agassi won five more major titles. When Agassi lost the final match of his career in the 2006 U.S. Open, he received an eight-minute standing ovation.

He exorcised the demons on the tennis court, and through this book he finally overcame those off the court. He came clean, called himself an “underachiever,” but most importantly realized that it was okay to be fallible. He knew his image would suffer, but he went through with it. Agassi has made over $31 million in tournament earnings and has been just as successful off the court, so it is hard to imagine this book was written because he has fallen on bad times.

As a role model and professional athlete Andre Agassi should not have taken illegal substances and lied to the governing body of his sport, but it is admirable that he took the initiative to come clean. While Roger Clemens and other athletes have lied to their fans about taking drugs, Agassi was up front and honest, and that’s the reason why Clemens is hiding somewhere in Houston away from the public, while Agassi is carrying on his daily life.

-David Sacks is a Carletonian Columnist

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