Andre Agassi’s drug bombshell & drug-fuelled excellence

June 25, 2012


2012 Olympics (2)
A look back at the world of tennis & rumblings about drugs

You have to live in Las Vegas, Nevada for some years to experience the kind of affection that Vegans have for one of their own and even though I’ve long moved away from the city, I’ve remained physically and emotionally attached to one of the nicest places to live. I do not gamble. While the city grew from about 800,000 to well over a million right in my presence, and even though I’ve been back several times since I left, Vegas seems to have become a city while retaining a small town persona: warm people and warm (okay, very hot) weather. It is a city with a Jekyl and Hyde personality. In the tony enclaves of Green Valley, (Man-made) Lake Las Vegas, etcetera, there is nary a sign of the action on The Strip: family living and relatively good public (not as in English) that rivals livable American suburbia.. It’s hard to believe that Vegas ranks as highest per capita in churches of any American city in a country that waves the Cross like the Stars and Stripes. The four or five-mile long Strip is where you find the superlatives of just about anything: entertainment for families; for adult; perhaps the lowest-priced best hotels in the world, etcetera.

I came to a conclusion about why Vegans are passionate about their city and protective of each other within two years of arrival. People I knew back on the East Coast would express awe when told “I now live in Vegas and we love it!” Now, the ‘awe’ is more like – ‘my God, you actually LIVE in Sin City!” It was this milieu of ‘The Rest of America’ Versus ‘Us’ that my family stepped into during Summer ’88.
How do universities become great? By educating students who will become great researchers, administrators, inventors, etcetera; by attracting generous endowments that will enable institutions hire great scholars as well as providing resources for student scholarships, research funding, etcetera. Las Vegas is known worldwide as the world’s entertainment capital but while that gets tons of money for the State of Nevada which enables state residents live tax free, there’s more to Vegas than beautiful show girls and glittering hotel properties.

Unlike Nigeria where the Maritime agency is reportedly located at Abuja where all things must be located, Vegas, situated in the middle of the Mojave Desert, is the location for the best-known Desert Research Institute in the world which is an arm of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV). Check One. UNLV is famous for its Hotel Management School, the best in the world. Check Two. Okay, I know it cannot run away – and there’s no need for it – from its showbiz past and present. Marjorie Barrick, a former showgirl – those chorus-line girls with incredible stamina and even more incredible legs – married rich and after her husband’s death, she endowed the University with over a million dollars. It was specifically to fund an ongoing public lecture series at UNLV. Since its inception in 1980, the roll call of lecturers is impressive: former U.S. Presidents Ford and Carter; former Russian Prime Minister, Gorbachev and Africa’s Wole Soyinka whose lecture my family attended back in the early 1990s. Soyinka now has an endowed Chair in Creative Writing at UNLV’s English Department. Check Three.

There are many others but how about this for Check Four: Andre Agassi’s world-renowned Academy for under-privileged kids? Steve Wynn may have done more to bring more pizzazz, respectability and post-Bugsy Siegel and post-Howard Huges to Vegas but it is Andre Agassi, son of Iranian immigrants and child tennis prodigy who went on to become eight grand slam winner that is the best-known Vegan in the world and is Vegas’ Favorite Son. He lives a charmed life with his tennis royalty wife, Steffi Graf and two kids. Agassi remains one of my favorite people – in spite of this past week’s revelation of doping after what would probably have been the end of what would still have been a great career. Unlike most, my interest in Agassi’s tennis sort of ended with his Hollywood distractions but I will always be a fan for three reasons: he’s from Vegas – yeah, parochial; neither he nor his mother knows me but I benefitted from a professional act of which his mother was not even aware but best of all, I like Agassi for what he has used his tennis wealth – AND contacts – to do for underprivileged kids. It has shown others what they could do to give back to society that has enabled them have so much. Facts, though, cannot be willed away.

After his 20-year career ended in what was a tear-soaked love-fest, he founded the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation for which he has raised more than $85 million for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy for underprivileged children in West Las Vegas. Why now, and even sadder, why Agassi? Many television pundits have been serving up reasons for Agassi’s mea culpa among which is to drive up sales for his autobiography in which the shocker is revealed.

Agassi’s bio would sell even without the revelation which I guess should be to get it off his chest.

It’s been apparent for quite a while even to the most ardent sports lovers that most sports bodies would rather play the ostrich when it comes to tackling drug use among athletes, a sports take of “don’t ask, don’t tell”! While I do not know of any star who uses drugs, I wondered in my files how Kim Clijsters, the new comeback kid (or mommy) is praising Justin Henin’s proposed comeback coming January. Why? When Henin was on the tour before she abruptly retired – BEFORE Wimbledon AND U.S. Open, I did read at least a news report crediting “Clijster’s camp” with rumors of drug use by Henin, the then Number One. Kim, one of the best-loved women on the WTA Tour, also retired only to come back a month or so before the 2009 U.S. Open and win the championship. Kim must have trained as a gymnast as a child but those incredible splits she employed to reach balls are nothing compared to the new Kim who returned with a baby – and incredible stamina, unbelievable shot selections and an arsenal that must be the envy of the women’s tour. My favorites among the stars of WTA are Venus and Serena; Kutsnesova, Dementieva AND Kim Clijsters. I adopted Dementieva from the time she could hardly get a ball into play!

There is so much money in sports these days that athletes are willing to do anything to win. They’ve seen the likes of “I’ve-never-FAILED-a-drug-test” Marion Jones whose jerky running style I found eerily similar to Greek fake Goddess Katerina Thanou, the Track doper. Nobody among the dope examiners wondered why Jones avoided saying “I’ve never TAKEN drugs”. She should not have divorced her first husband who had been earlier banned for using “designer” drugs – difficult to trace. Not even the deaths of American footballers and the purported death of at least one lovable track star of the last two decades would change these cheats’ habits. Sports bodies have to work harder to keep the loyalty of fans.

Now, how do I accept that Agassi also leapfrogged over his competitors by cheating?

Re last week’s essay, Robert Ludlum wrote three books in the Jason Bourne series: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum & The Bourney Supremacy. An error arose from first writing about the three before editing necessitated removal of a whole paragraph. ‘Trilogy’ was substituted without proper editing that would have placed Supremacy as the third. Pardon the slipshod editing.

The Nation on Sunday, November 1, 2009



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