Wed Oct 28 06:39pm EDT
It takes a lot to shock the 21st century sports fan. Arrests, drug use and steroid abuse have long been part of the sports culture, but with the proliferation of 24-hour sports news and the Internet, these stories have appeared so frequently that the public is numb to them. Did anybody, for instance, bat an eyelid when Manny Ramirez earned a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs? How about when NFL players get arrested for gun or drug possession?
Yet the Andre Agassi story managed to jolt even the most jaded of observers. It's not that Agassi used illegal drugs or that he even lied about it, although combined those facts make for a fascinating tale. No, what was most surprising about this revelation was the frank, realistic way Agassi (and his ghostwriter) wrote of the experience. Here's the excerpt again, from his forthcoming autobiography, "Open":
"Slim is stressed too ... He says, You want to get high with me? On what? Gack. What the hell's gack? Crystal meth. Why do they call it gack? Because that's the sound you make when you're high ... Make you feel like Superman, dude.
"As if they're coming out of someone else's mouth, I hear these words: You know what? F*** it. Yeah. Let's get high.
"Slim dumps a small pile of powder on the coffee table. He cuts it, snorts it. He cuts it again. I snort some. I ease back on the couch and consider the Rubicon I've just crossed.
"There is a moment of regret, followed by vast sadness. Then comes a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head. I've never felt so alive, so hopeful - and I've never felt such energy.
"I'm seized by a desperate desire to clean. I go tearing around my house, cleaning it from top to bottom. I dust the furniture. I scour the tub. I make the beds."
The description of the high -- from the regret to the euphoria -- is unlike anything I've read in a celebrity autobiography that isn't about drug addiction. It's real.
Normally when a celebrity in good moral standing writes of drug use it's with pangs of regret and never provides any indication that the experience was remotely enjoyable. That's not to glorify drug use or condone Agassi's actions, but there's a reason people take drugs: In that instant, it makes them feel good. We rarely hear that part of it though, usually people gloss over the details and skip straight to the insincere apology.
Here, for instance, is how Barack Obama wrote of his dalliances into illicit substances in his memoirs "Dreams of My Fathers":
"Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though."
It's candid yes, but not especially informative. When politicians or athletes speak of smoking weed, it's always considered an "experimentation" or a "phase". Some, like Obama, write about it in a straightforward way, but almost never in a probing one. Nobody talks about whether they liked it, or how they sat on the couch and laughed at informercials for three hours or tried to order a pizza but got paranoid that the CIA was listening to the call. For obvious reasons, Michael Phelps never mentioned if he enjoyed that bong hit at the time he took it.
Conversely, Agassi has described his experience truthfully, honestly and insightfully. In a nation where it's amazingly difficult to have real discussions about sensitive topics like race, drugs, politics and class, he's attempted to do so. It will earn him scorn and might cost him a few fans, but it shouldn't.
Andre Agassi is no different today than he was yesterday. He's still an eight-time Grand Slam champion, Olympic gold medalist, philanthropist and father. Those demons have always been there, they're just more out in the open. If you liked and respected Agassi before, there's no reason to change your mind now.