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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Open by Andre Agassi

Open: An AutobiographyOn Christmas Eve, I started reading Open by Andre Agassi. It's a shocking book. Not only because of his admitted drug use in 1997, but because of his complete honesty about who is and what he believes. He took some huge risks by writing this book. He could have alienated his fans, lost the respect of current and former players and ruined his reputation as a humanitarian.

Apparently he thought the risks were worth taking. 

Early on, Agassi makes it clear that he hates tennis. He hates it because he never had the choice to play it. His father forced it upon him as a young boy and it just so happened that God gave him the ability to play the game on an extremely high level. When he was a teen, his father sent him to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida which caused Agassi's hatred for tennis to grow. Eventually he reached a breaking point while at the academy.

Here's what happened next:
I walk into a hair salon in the Bradenton Mall and tell the stylist to give me a mohawk. Razor the sizes, shave them to the scalp, and leave just one thick strip of spiked hair down the middle.
Are you sure, kid?
I want it high, and I want it spiky. Then dye it pink.
 A couple of paragraphs later, he says this:
To the casual observer I've done something that seems like a desperate effort to stand out. But in fact I've rendered myself, my inner self, my true self, invisible. At least, that was the idea.
A few years later, after he is a pro, Canon pays him to shoot a commercial in which he utters the line "Image is everything." He doesn't even understand what it means, but it's just a commercial, so what's the harm, right? Overnight, Agassi says, the slogan becomes synonymous with him:
They [advertising execs, sportswriters and fans] treat this ridiculous throwaway slogan as if it's my Confession, which makes as much sense as arresting Marlon Brando for murder because of a line he uttered in The Godfather.
As the ad campaign widens, as this insidious slogan creeps its way into every article about me, I change. I develop an edge, a mean streak. I stop giving interviews. I lash out at linesmen, opponents, reporters -- even fans. I feel justified, because the world is against me, the world is trying to screw me. I'm becoming my father.
Of course, Agassi eventually turned nearly everybody into a fan. But then he wrote Open and confessed his faults and now his critics are saying  he wrote the book to cash in. By being in the public eye, and by writing a book, Agassi is fair game for criticism. And certainly, people are entitled to their opinions.

But what if he really did hide behind the hair and the flare early in his career in an attempt to preserve himself? And what if people jumped to conclusions about him early in his career because of a slogan he recited in a commercial? And what if he wrote Open to not only set the record straight about who he really is, warts and all, but also to reach out to other lost souls?

It's worth considering.


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