Columnist: Agassi deserves forgiveness

November 23, 2009 — by Tim Rollinson

Retired tennis star Andre Agassi released his autobiography, “Open” a compilation of the chapters in his rich, full life. Along with an honest recitation of a much-fulfilled career, Agassi, with perhaps too much honestly, describes his use of the highly addictive stimulant methamphetamine, or “crystal meth.” The aftermath of this confession sent shock waves through the athletic world, eliciting demands from other players that Agassi denounce his titles and forfeit all prize money.

It is impossible to avoid the truth of the matter: Agassi committed a shameful error and let down the many people who respected and admired his accomplishments. By admitting to his lack of judgment, he has tainted his entire body of work—awards, achievements, titles—with embarrassment and disgrace. Additionally, his confession makes it clear that he lied to the ATP, the Association of Tennis Professionals, about failed drug tests. According to his own autobiography, Agassi even wrote a false letter of denial about his drug use, blaming the traces of an illegal substance in his blood on a spiked soft drink.

However, all judgments must be made in context. At the time, Agassi was reportedly undergoing a stressful relationship with actress Brooke Shields. Additionally, his drug use coincided with the slump in his game. Agassi’s poor form was threatening the pinnacle of success he was so close to. Media attention, rabid fans and all-consuming training were all extraordinarily detrimental to Agassi’s mental and physical health.

It is important to note that Agassi could have easily dodged the bullet, maintaining his good name. After all, the suspicions of his drug use had long since died down. His confession represents the degree of respect that he has for his fans, enough to let them know the truth, despite the blow he knew it would deal to his reputation. Perhaps he did it for profit from his book; perhaps he did it out of shame. But he confessed, all the same, choosing to clear his conscience and express his regret over the situation. What more can be asked of this man? For him to throw away his trophies? Smash congratulatory plaques? Tear down countless certificates of his achievements?

Meth did not make his muscles bigger or his training sessions more bearable. The recreational use of meth is banned in the U.S., but it does not enhance performance. The real problem were the lies Agassi told ATP officials after failing a drug test.

Agassi was not addicted to meth; he did not shoot up every weekend. While his actions are inexcusable, one must empathize with the athlete’s situation—Agassi was trying to find an escape. And he himself said that “[he] can’t speak to addiction, but a lot of people would say that if you’re using anything as an escape, you have a problem.”

The public fails to realize the impact that being constantly watched and analyzed have on a person. Agassi is taking full responsibility of the situation, more than can be said of others who have erred in their ways. He made mistakes but he has showed regret. His slip in judgment was years ago, and certainly does not cancel out his extraordinary achievements on the court.

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