Andre Agassi = Roger Clemens, and Other Mysteries

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The sports world generally, and professional tennis specifically, was rocked by the recent admission (from his upcoming book) that Andre Agassi used crystal meth during a brief stint in his career. Worse yet—apparently—he lied about this drug use to tennis officials after he failed a drug test.

I admit to always liking Agassi. I also admit to liking him much more in his Second Career than during his first. His First Career was the career he enjoyed—and I use that term loosely—as he pursued what was, by all accounts, his father’s dream. That was the career where he wore the long, rock-star hair and won very little relative to what his talent seemed to suggest. (And seemed to care even less than that.) His second career was the success he enjoyed after he returned from the depths of life, depths to which he had been inexorably dragged by his addiction to crystal meth. And there, sports fans, lies the absolute and unassailable reason why everyone should be so glad Agassi came clean in this book. We only know about this duality because he is so honest in the book. (I always wondered why Agassi seemed so different later in his career.)

That duality provides a life lesson. That lesson illustrates, in full and glowing detail, exactly that drug use can often lead to bad outcomes. Unlike Roger Clemens, who Martina Navratilova absurdly equates to Agassi, Agassi did not benefit in any way from taking methamphetamine. He crashed and burned, falling to “well outside the top 100 and widely viewed as on the way out,” says Andy Roddick. His drug use was, in fact, the last act in a phase of life that was full of disappointments and disgust. Thereafter, he got back on top and soared to new heights. And therein lies another lesson, both about addicts and about life.

To be clear, I’m on record saying I don’t care if a person uses drugs, of almost any type. My opinion remains unchanged. It just strikes me as truly crazy, nearing clinically insane, for so many in the tennis world to attack Agassi for being so truthful in this memoir. (Maybe he will sell more books. So what?) Good for Andy Roddick, who I now appreciate even more, for realizing the truth of the matter is exactly the opposite. And good for Rick Reilly, who I always liked, for summing up what should be the rational response to this memoir.

We all know what became of the showy, glitzy kid with all that fake hair and real talent. He shaved his hair off. He started being real. He learned to love tennis, and tennis learned to love him. The kid who never got past the ninth grade in school wound up funding and running the prestigious Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas. The man who couldn’t find the right woman finally married the one everybody wanted—tennis goddess Steffi Graf. And the son who hated his father learned to love him and his own two kids.

Just like Roger Clemens? Not hardly.

1:53 pm on November 1, 2009