Agassi-Safin: Contradictions Part of their Appeal

With Andre Agassi hitting the airwaves in force today – morning TV shows, NPR, David Letterman – and Marat Safin ending his career with a loss in Paris, it occurred to me that they make nice bookends for a quick discussion of what they have been unduly called out for: hypocrisy.

As we learn in Agassi’s new book, Open, the eight-time major winner consistently said one thing while thinking another, layered the truth in white lies and on occasion delivered outright falsities. The volatile Safin was equally prone to complete contradictions or statements that served the efficacy of the moment.


I don’t condone Agassi for his lies to the ATP after testing positive for meth anymore than I do Safin’s relentless double-sided bitching (good entertainment though it was). But I also think both these players deserve some slack. Everyone evolves. Everyone changes his or her mind from teenager to 30-year-old. Everyone is entitled to develop, grow up, or as in the case of Agassi, reinvent himself. These are young, famous, continually scrutinized and ultimately fragile people. Why should we hold them to a standard by which they are not allowed to change, to advance, to figure out who they are and what they are doing? They are human beings, flawed and often with the most narrow of blinders.

If they were politicians, different story. Those are people we elect with a contract that they will serve our needs based on their policy positions. When they switch mid-course for personal, political or philosophical reasons, we, the voters, get burned. Athletes? Not so much.

And, a large part of the appeal of personalities like Agassi and Safin is that we get to see them progress, see their mistakes, their struggles, their triumphs, and can relate them to our own lives, or identify with them, however great or small the similarities might be. Who couldn’t love a guy who was so excited after a brilliant drop shot winner that he pulled down his pants. Who can’t admire a man who goes out of his way to point out his flaws and has meantime become one of this era’s greatest philanthropists?

If you didn’t catch it, here is Monday’s USA Today’s Agassi story, with links to part II and part III of the interview, plus and a reaction story. Here, too, is my piece on Safin today.


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