Tennis is known as a gentleman’s sport, but it is in grave danger of losing that lofty reputation. Andre Agassi’s admission of crystal meth use has cast a cloud of uncertainty over the game.
Earlier this year, the ATP suspended one of the sport's bright young talents, 23-year-old Frenchman Richard Gasquet, when he tested positive for cocaine. Gasquet later was cleared after he claimed that he did not use the drug but instead blamed his positive test on a woman he kissed while in Key Biscayne, Fla., for a tournament. Even though his story was upheld by the ATP, questions are still being raised about his career.
This sounds eerily similar to what happened with Agassi in 1997. Agassi explains in his autobiography that he tried crystal meth when his manager offered it to him. Agassi tested positive, but the results were thrown out and never reported until now because Agassi wrote a letter to the ATP, claiming that he accidentally drank one of his manager’s sodas that was spiked with meth. There was never a formal investigation into the matter, and the ATP took Agassi’s word.
If it was this easy for players to get out of a positive drug test back in the 1990s, Agassi likely is just one of many who got away with illegal drug use.
Tennis was searching for its new stars for some time, and when they finally came along in Pete Sampras and Agassi, the sport seemed willing to do anything to prevent its newfound popularity from slipping away. The ATP has since cracked down on drugs because of the widespread use in other sports like baseball, but only because drug use is now in the public forum and every sport has adopted its own set of rules pertaining to illegal substance abuse.
Just like illegal drug use was overlooked by Major League Baseball during the same time, professional tennis also may have turned a blind eye. The integrity of baseball is still in question today — largely because of the Mitchell Report — and all of the game's star players are under intense scrutiny. With big names like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez in the mix, no one is immune from steroid questions.
Now that Agassi has come forward and admitted to using crystal meth, the honor of tennis comes into question. Does this mean that other players were using drugs, but that their tests were thrown out as well? If the ATP was willing to cover up Agassi’s positive test, what was stopping them from covering up other positive tests?
Prior to Agassi’s admission, the only real big name to get suspended by the ATP besides Gasquet was Mariano Puerta, the 2005 French Open runner-up. Puerta was first banned in 2003 for nine months after testing positive for an illegal substance, and then was suspended for eight years in 2005 after he tested positive again. His sentence was reduced to two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and he has since returned to the professional circuit.
The eight-year punishment is the longest handed out in tennis history.
Now that Agassi has come forward, the reputations of players past and present will be called into question. Even with the ATP’s new drug-testing policy, a big question remains: If the ATP was not willing to risk calling out Agassi, how do we know others were not protected?