Like many others, I was following the scandalized outpourings regarding the allegations against Lance Armstrong and some of his team-mates, when it occurred to me that we seem to be going through a spate of shame and scandal involving a number of well-known athletes across a wide swath of sports. At which point I found myself thinking that as a sport, tennis has not done so badly after all.
The cycling world has been reeling from a slew of allegations regarding years of colluded and systematic doping. Was L’Equipe right after all? They wrote about this matter years ago, at a time when no one wanted to see the ball-less wonder as anything but a great American hero. Now he and some other cohorts have allegedly brought shame and scandal to their sport.
Baseball has had to contend with the likes of Alex Rodriguez who admitted to doping up during the three years he spent in Texas. His 600th win came and went and only pizza-faced Cameron Diaz (to quote dlisted.com) and Gwyneth "GOOP" Paltrow seemed to care enough to celebrate.
Then there is Tiger Woods and the world of golf. I’ve been looking for an angle to write an article about some comments Tiger recently made during his losing tournament. This is not an exact quote but he said something to the effect of having to be there for the children, not that he minded this of course because naturally the kids came first. For a moment I wondered if he was actually blaming the children for his poor form. Or maybe he just didn’t realize how good he had it when he had a wife who was willing to shoulder all of the responsibilities of parenting while he ran around collecting medals and hos.
And then there's basketball which has had to contend with the (I believe) unintentional fiasco of LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland. Somebody somewhere advised that young man very badly. And even if no one told him to make such a spectacle of himself, clearly he missed the pulse of public opinion and did not know when to curtail his narcissism and aim for humility. Even his recent loud declaration of thanks to the city of Akron was diminished by the perceived passive-aggressive component of spitefulness towards poor Cleveland. I mean what did that poor city do to deserve such hostility?
I could go on with the string of athletes who have brought (or are alleged to have brought) shame and scandal upon their sport. So I got to wondering whether tennis has ever been similarly embarrassed by one of its athletes.
And before I develop this further, let me also acknowledge that this emphasis on shame and embarrassment probably reflects my Caribbean cultural influence. When you grow up on an island, the opinions of others matter very much because anonymity is simply not an option. When Caribbean sportsmen and women act the fool on an international stage, this is invariably interpreted as bringing shame to the respective island. For example, I don’t think Tobago ever recovered from the Dwight Yorke-Jordan/Katie Price affair. The shame, the horror.
Yet I don’t think for a moment that any of these athletes spend a sliver of a moment feeling embarrassed about their actions. When you get used to be being considered larger than life, the size of your id and ego may expand, leaving no room at all for the superego. Hence no shame, no guilt, no true learning. Just PR-infused protestations to the contrary.
But back to tennis and our own history of scandal and shame. The most recent incident I could think of was the one involving Nicolai Davydenko who was alleged to have bet on a match in which he lost to a lesser-ranked player. But Davydenko’s name has since been cleared, and his consequent work ethic did not at all suggest a man who was looking for easy winnings.
Martina Navratilova was also good for a scandal or two back in the day, but I never enjoy categorizing any events involving people’s sexual orientation as scandalous. Of course getting a married woman to leave her husband does have an air of illicit activity. But that scandal did not mar tennis. For a while it damaged only the player herself. Not only has she bounced back, but now she seems to have found a way to even profit from a cancer diagnosis. I always dislike it when these “celebrities” develop reality shows designed to demonstrate how brave and courageous they are in the face of unexpected adversity. If the average cancer survivor had their millions they would look brave and courageous too.
For a while people pretended to be scandalized by Hingis and her many boyfriends, but that was silly. She was a young woman exploring the world. Although granted, the incident with the lawyer was kind of bizarre. Closer to the existing crop of athletic scandals was her alleged use of cocaine. And she is not alone. Back in 1995, Mats Wilander and Karel Novacek were suspended for three months for cocaine use. Other tennis players have tested positive for dubious substances. And Richard Gasquet kissed a girl.
Finally, there’s good old Jenny Cap who has been good for a scandal or two in her time. But there’s no fun in self-destructive behavior. Indeed, so many of tennis’ quasi-scandals seem to involve people who become self-destructive and make stupid decisions. Even Agassi’s admission of drug use falls into this category. There have been of course a handful of scandalous tennis parents, but I’ve never believed in holding children responsible for the stupidity of their parents. Maybe tennis just doesn’t produce the kind of athletes who embarrass themselves and their sport at the level of a Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong, allegedly. Or maybe we’re just a sneaky bunch and know better how to hide the bodies.