A Legend Comes Clean: Agassi Loves Meth

 

 

Jim Rosen

We’ve all heard the news. Andre Agassi, one of the United States’ greatest tennis players of all time, was a meth-head for almost a year back in the late ’90s. In the release of his new book, Open: An Autobiography, Agassi provides insight into his life that only a select number of people knew about beforehand. He admits that he used crystal meth. He admits that he wore a hair piece. He admits that he was depressed. He admits that his dad drove him into a career that he never wanted in the first place. Agassi bares it all and shows that the spotlight sometimes isn’t as glamorous as we make it out to be.

This past weekend, on 60 Minutes, Katie Couric interviewed Andre Agassi, learning that his tennis career started as a toddler when his father used to tie ping-pong paddles to his hands. A six-year old Agassi was on the tennis court four to five hours a day. At age seven, Andre was returning balls from a souped-up machine he called “The Dragon,” which spit out balls at 110 mph. His dad would have Andre skip school to practice tennis and Agassi eventually dropped out in the 9th grade. This childhood which revolved around a fuzzy yellow ball led to a life Agassi didn’t ever want, a life that led to depression.

This pressure-filled life didn’t end once Agassi made it to the big leagues. In fact, it got worse. Agassi was balding and decided to wear a hair-piece, which served as his signature wild mane. The night before the 1990 French Open final, his first grand slam final, Agassi’s hair-piece fell apart. Even though he lost, Agassi claims, “when the match was over, I had won ‘cause my hair had stayed on.” All of the pressure, along with a relationship with Brooke Shields that he knew wasn’t working, led to depression and the lowest point in Agassi’s life.

In 1997, Agassi tried crystal meth for the first time with his assistant “Slim.” He used the drug for about a year and when Couric asked why he did it, his response was, “why not? I can’t feel any worse.” Couric continued the interrogation wondering if he worried about the consequences. He replied, “tennis wasn’t a concern to me because I didn’t care about tennis. My own body wasn’t really that much of a concern to me because I didn’t think that highly of myself.” He eventually failed a drug test but claimed that he accidentally drank one of “Slim’s” spiked drinks. He tanked matches because he didn’t want to play. Agassi was clearly extremely depressed and turned to meth as an escape. After all of this, he, for the first time in his life, chose to play tennis and turn his life around. More than ten years and five grand slam titles later, he has chosen to share his story with the world.

Many in the tennis world have chosen to put blame on Agassi. Roger Federer stated that he is disappointed and wishes for tennis to stay clean. Rafael Nadal said that this incident has damaged tennis’ reputation. Martina Navratilova compared Agassi to Roger Clemens. Most recently, Marat Safin said that Agassi should return the money and titles he won to the ATP. While there is some truth to these statements, these players are all wrong.

First, what these players don’t realize is that crystal meth is not a performance-enhancing drug. In reality, meth is a drug that ruins lives and certainly does not help on the tennis court. Agassi is the farthest thing from Roger Clemens. Second, the ATP is just as much at fault as Agassi. This is a group that believed Richard Gasquet’s claim this past summer that he tested positive for cocaine because he kissed a woman who was on the drug. There is no way the ATP believed Agassi’s makeshift story.

I am in no way claiming that Agassi is not at fault in this situation. I am simply saying that many of the factors that led to his downfall were out of his control. This was a man who was driven into a career he did not choose. Imagine being seven years old and having 110 mph balls speeding at you. Imagine being so depressed that you can’t get out of bed.

Imagine living in a loveless marriage. Imagine a tennis association that ignored a drug test so one of their stars could keep making them money. Imagine admitting to the world that you were a meth-head and a liar. Oh wait, this all happened. While Agassi was once in the wrong, we should be grateful to him. He bared his tragic downfall and impressive comeback, providing a life lesson to both young and old.

Contact Jim Rosen at [email protected]