Thursday, October 29, 2009

No one asked, so why did Andre tell?

Honesty can be cathartic, but certain things in an athlete's life are better left unsaid. Has the term "no comment" been lost on these men?

I understand the difficulty some of them face when writing their autobiography, because they want its content to reflect who they are. So they turn their book into a tell-all, revealing the foibles in their life and everything else.

But do readers need to know everything? Are they really longing for yet-another Dr. Phil moment?

I pose these two questions because of the ongoing talk about Andre Agassi's soon-to-be-released autobiography "Open." In the book, Agassi discusses lying to the tennis federation in 1997 about his use of crystal meth, an illegal drug that has its appeal among a certain crowd.

I doubt he mentioned his use of crystal meth to show how cool he was. Remember, in the 1990s, Agassi was "Mr. Image Is Everything," and the cool factor attached to his name hadn't waned even as his mane of flowing blond locks had begun to give way to skin.

Agassi, who retired in 2006, has remained a popular athlete, an iconic figure for what he did on the tennis court and off it. He won more than his share, and he pulled his career from the bottom of the sport to its apex. Agassi was a powerful force in men's tennis for parts of two decades.

But his Grand Slam titles and other tennis exploits have gotten lost in the discussion of his drug use. It has become the talk of professional tennis, a sport crying for an American star to fill the void that he and Pete Sampras left when they retired.

I would have preferred not to know about Agassi's drug abuse. I'm not certain his autobiography, brutally honest as he claims it is, would have been less compelling without the mention of meth, but to bring the topic up puts his squeaky-clean public life under a different microscope. He sullied his imagine of the all-American boy, even though his revelation was about what he did a decade ago.

In my mind, Agassi, 39, didn't do his image a favor by opening all of his past for public scrutiny. He could have mesmerized readers with insights into his marriage to Brooke Shields, with stories about his struggles to rebuild his flagging tennis career, with stories about his life with tennis great Steffi Graf and with stories about his charitable initiatives on behalf of educating society's have-nots.

I care as much about his using crystal meth as I do about whether he drinks Crystal Light, Tang or Kool-Aid.

Tell me about his rivalry with Sampras. Let me into what drove you to the top of the sport. Share with me your memories of the exotic places tennis took you. Walk me through the reasoning behind your decision to put your money behind educating people.

I find those stories relevant to what Agassi has become as a man. I prefer more of that, and less of tabloid tales of drugs or sex. I didn't like it when LeBron James revealed in his memoir that he had used marijuana in high school, and I don't like what Agassi did in talking about his use of crystal meth.

For the story of a flawed character is trite. I think the public is better served in viewing Agassi as a genuine hero without warts, not as the second coming of Levi Johnston. Agassi wouldn't be lying; he would just be holding on to a side of his private life that wasn't necessary to reveal.

To my knowledge, no one asked Andre Agassi about a drug problem. So what was his reason to tell?


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