Now do you get why athletes are untrustworthy? Well, no more trustworthy than anyone else? Do you really still want athletes to be your kids' role models? Do we really have to lead you by the hand to Andre Agassi?
Agassi admitted in his brand new book, which we presume he isn't giving away or even allowing to be serialized for free, that he habitually used crystal methamphetamine regularly starting in 1997. He also admitted to lying to the ATP after failing a drug test, was let off and resumed his career without a blot.
|Andre Agassi says he used crystal meth in 1997 -- another reason not to idolize athletes. (Getty Images)|
Except that there really isn't a myth to blow any more. There shouldn't be any, in fact. He got hooked at a low ebb in his life, which by any standard is still way better than yours or mine, he used for awhile, and then he stopped, straight out and is now an exemplar of family life.
At least we think he is. In fact, no, we don't think is. We don't have the vaguest idea, and can make no assumptions at all either way. And that's pretty much the way it ought to be.
This is why athletes don't get to be role models any more than rap stars or TV personalities or anyone else, really. This seems like really old news, but we have to bring it up again and again when a story like this crops up, because people want athletes to be something other than what they are -- young folks with too much money, too much time and not enough spine.
That doesn't make athletes worse folks than you or I. It just makes them denizens of a weird world in which they can get as much as they ask for and come to believe that nothing bad will ever happen to them. That way, when bad does happen, their first instinct is to try and lie their way out of it.
Sometimes they get caught. More often, they don't. And most of the time, they get a pass because they're artists and artists have to be free to examine all facets of the world in which they live without sanction or punishment, or some other such idiocy.
Agassi got caught. He lied his way out of it, if his current story is to be believed. And he got his pass. Now, with a book to move, he's ready to come clean, and in doing so introduces us to a guy he calls only "Slim," the guy who became his gack fairy.
Fine. Hope it's very therapeutic for him. Hope it causes someone else to walk away from meth, or coke, or Peruvian poisonous toad extract, or whatever else is out there now. We're not here to kick a guy now that he's back up, although in fairness we've always found honesty to be more refreshing when it doesn't come at $31.99 a copy.
But this is why athletes should not be role models, no matter how charming or talented or good at moving cameras they may be. This is why Charles Barkley was right when he said this in 1993 (for Nike money, it should be said), and this is why he is right today.
And because we keep forgetting, this is why we need reminding.
Agassi acknowledging his error will win him approval in some corners, and it should. But the acknowledgement comes with sales tax, and that is that he can no longer be fully believed on other details of his life. There are, after all, gradations of honesty, and his is of the second variety -- honesty once it's safe and/or potentially lucrative. Had he copped to the ATP people right away, he'd have gotten into trouble, but he would have been a more noble character. He'd have been nobler still if he'd told Slim to take a hike instead of diving in, but mistakes are made.
That's how it should be viewed.
Besides, nobody has yet been able to make the claim that methamphetamine is a performance enhancer. Agassi said that when he took it, he cleaned his place. His performance as a maid may have been enhanced, but he has never been a maid competitively, so it really doesn't count.
No, the only point to be made from Agassi's admission is that, because it came a decade too late to be truly forthright, he isn't really someone you should tell your kids to model.
In fact, he never really was, and he wouldn't be even if he had always been clean, because we are not in a position to know anything about anything. Athletes are entertainers, and if they also choose to be moral exemplars, they'll have to do it for themselves because nobody else in their right mind would invest any of their children's upbringing on strangers, no matter how swell they might be.
And that's the lesson to be taken from the Andre Agassi story. He's human, he screwed up, his took care of it, and now he's fine.
Or maybe not. Who knows?
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.