Saturday, November 14, 2009

Let's Book Club!: Open by Andre Agassi

For the record, I haven't read Open (yet, I'm planning on it), but there's been so much interesting commentary around the book that, being a tennis guy, I feel compelled to say something about my childhood idol.

By now you've heard (or you're hearing now) about his father chaining him to the court in the early mornings, the weave, the tanking, etc., etc., and oh... the crystal meth. I don't do a ton of reading on tennis stuff, but enough to hear that the likes of Safin, Martina Navratilova, and Nadal have come out and questioned why Agassi would make his crystal meth use public after all these years. Basically, their suggestion has been that: 1/that this hurts the game by damaging the public perception that the game is clean; and 2/ that this is a rather thinly veiled attempt to sell some books; which has led to the 40+ tennis playing community to think, why would he admit to this?

To me, while Safin's criticism comes off as a little bit of sour grapes, and I find it hard to hear Martina's from her high horse (she complains about everything), Nadal's concerns seem very reasonable. The thrust of Nadal's complaints against Agassi all seem to stem from his ability to taint the public's thinking about tennis as a 'clean' sport. His reasoning goes, if Agassi circumvented drug testing, why wouldn't other star players (potentially ones with bulging Popeye-esque biceps) be using drugs also? So, while Nadal's critique seems a little self-serving at first, at the heart of what Nadal is advocating for is honesty (Uncle Toni has raised him well), from Agassi and from the ATP.

That said, it doesn't seem to me that what Nadal is advocating for and Agassi's book is doing (coming clean) are really at odds. My impression is that honesty really is what is at the heart of this Agassi autobiography. He certainly doesn't need the money, particularly after having married Steffi Graf (and her accountant! BA-zing!), it seems like he just wants to tell the truth and get on with the rest of his life. Frankly, I'd be surprised if anyone watched him on 60 minutes and thought he was being anything other than completely honest...

And this is where Navratilova's Roger Clemens comparison is pretty out to lunch -- the reprehensible part about Clemens' behaviour was that, not only did he break the rules, but he lied about it afterward. Now Agassi, to his credit, is coming clean and we're upset about it?

I mean, I get what people are irked about -- particularly when people get into the he's so brave coming forward bullshit (should we be praising every athlete who doesn't do drugs and doesn't break the rules?), but that's not it either. I think the point being that everyone has their own challenges, and we ought to applaud people who are trying to improve themselves. He's trying to make up for past wrongs, and so good for him.

To sum up:
  • Good for Agassi for coming clean, and kudos to him for all the do-gooding he's done post-crystal meth use.
  • For someone without a G.E.D. he is very articulate and well spoken.
  • To me the issue is not the type of drug use (recreational vs. performance enhancing) or even the drug use itself, it's that he was dishonest (a bad thing) and now he's being honest (a good thing).
  • His honesty now (still a good thing), doesn't make up for his past dishonesty, but it certainly makes it better, and it also makes him... human...
... if you thought I had a lot to say about Open now, wait until I actually read the book...

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