Justin Gimelstob, Andrea Jaeger, and John Carlos all shot their mouths off when they should have known better.
One way to explain it is to say that Justin Gimelstob had a meltdown. During an appearance on a Washington based radio show a few weeks ago, he called Anna Kournikova a “bitch” and a “douche.” Actually, let’s get the full impact of his comments about Kournikova, shall we? Here’s a start. When asked if he hated Kournikova, Gimelstob said:
Hate’s a very strong word, I just despise her to the maximum level, right below hate. I think she falls into the Marcelo Rios ‘Scumbag’ category….And this whole bluff about her retiring because of her back? She had the yips on her serve, she can’t get her serve on the court. Wait until you see on July 23, she’s gonna be serving 40 miles an hour and I’m gonna be just plugging it down her throat….We do exhibitions together and I’ll mock her, and make fun of her. I’ll just make her know that she’s stupid.
(Gimelstob’s team will play Kournikova’s team in a World Team Tennis match on July 23rd.)
When asked if he’d date Kournikova he said:
Definitely not. I have no attraction to her because she’s such a douche. I really have no interest in her … I wouldn’t mind having my younger brother, who’s a kind of a stud, nail her and then reap the benefits of that.
As soon as I picked my jaw up off the floor, my first thought was, Why does Gimelstob hate Kournikova so much? He wants to shove a ball down her throat and get a surrogate to “nail” her. He may have been referring to sex, but the image of stud and nail sounds more like rape.
I think the root of Gimelstob’s vitriol is a deep insecurity because here’s the thing: Kournikova’s career was more successful than Gimelstob’s. Neither player won a singles title, Kournikova reached four singles finals to Gimelstob’s one singles final, Kournikova has 16 doubles titles to Gimelstob’s 13, and two of Kournikova’s doubles titles are slams. I think Gimelstob is afraid that he’s another pretty face who didn’t do much in his career and his already low opinion of women is challenged by Kournikova’s popularity.
What bothers me most about this situation is the tacit approval of Gimelstob by the ATP. Officials of the ATP issued a statement decrying Gimelstob’s comments. but they accepted his apology as an adequate correction to his actions. This is how they put it:
However, he has done the right thing in taking full responsibility for his comments by apologising publicly to Anna for what he has rightly described as his disappointing and disrespectful comments.
Justin Gimelstob is on the board of directors of the ATP, people, and he still has his job. It’s not just the officials of the ATP either. Gimelstob was voted onto the board of directors by the ten member Player Council and those players haven’t removed him. And that leads me to believe that Gimelstob didn’t have a meltdown at all.
Gimelstob was sitting around with his friends The Junkies at the radio station that day (check out that link by the way to see what The Junkies think of women) much as he might sit around with his buds on a Friday night. And much as he might sit around an ATP locker room talking about women with his pro tennis buds.
And that’s the scariest part of all. Not just that this might have been normal behavior for Gimelstob, but it might be normal behavior for other players too.
Gimelstob wasn’t the only former tennis player to open his mouth when he shouldn’t have. In a Daily Mail article titled, Why I became a nun, by former tennis star Andrea Jaeger, Andrea Jaeger tells us that she threw her 1983 Wimbledon final against Martina Navratilova.
In the early 1980’s, Jaeger was a bright young tennis star with an abusive and demanding father for a coach. By the age of 16 she was the number two player in the world but her heart wasn’t in it. According to Jaeger, after she beat Wendy Turnbull, Turnbull pulled out a bottle of wine and asked Jaeger for a corkscrew. Jaeger decided that she’d driven the poor lady to drink and from that point forward, she tried her best to lose to Turnbull whenever they played. Not only that, but she did her best to beat anyone who had the audacity to beat Turnbull. She became, as it were, Turnbull’s unspoken protector.
Her semifinal opponent at Wimbledon in 1983, Billie Jean King, had beaten Turnbull in the previous round and that, Jaeger says, was one of the reasons she trounced King 6-1, 6-1. The final with Navratilova was next but not until a bit of drama intervened.
Jaeger had a bad fight with her father the afternoon before the final and she fled the house she was sharing with him. She went next door to Navratilova’s house and pounded on the door till someone let her in and helped her find a taxi. According to Jaeger:
Martina was sitting in the living room. She glanced round at me briefly with a look on her face to say that I’d interrupted her preparation for the final. She stayed seated and didn’t look at me again.
I’m not buying it. A brief, unspoken glance from your opponent the night before the match doesn’t qualify as motivation for throwing a match. And that’s poor nunnery, anyway. The goal of a spiritual practice is to renounce the fruits of your labor, not crow about them 25 years later and take away what you supposedly gave, in all your goodness, to your opponent. Saying that you threw the match is tantamount to taking a Wimbledon title away from Martina because that means she didn’t win it on her own merit.
I’m not saying that Jaeger didn’t throw the match, but Turnbull had a 7-4 record over Jaeger after the wine bottle incident and that certainly doesn’t support Jaeger’s assertion that she did her best to lose to Turnbull. Memory does strange things and in Jaeger’s case, she’s seems to have refigured the past as an act of giving rather than the act of an angry, confused young woman who had major problems with an overbearing father.
In last week’s issue of Sports Illustrated, John Carlos does a similar bit of manipulation but for a different reason. Tommie Smith and Carlos were the two brave men who lowered their heads and raised their black-gloved fists in the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico after they’d taken the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter race.
Carlos now claims he threw the race even though he’d pulled a leg muscle in the semifinal heat and Smith won the race in a world record time that stood for eleven years. Carlos also claims that the symbolic and enduring protest was his idea while Smith says it was his. We don’t know whose idea it was – and who cares? – but how desperate must you be for a bigger slice of history if you need to play “I didn’t lose, I let you win” after losing to your friend and opponent in a world record time?
Don’t get me wrong, I revise the past all the time. When my sisters come out to visit me every year, I often finish recounting a memory only to hear them say, in unison, “You’re totally wrong, that never happened.” We all do it. We create a past that fits our current image of ourselves. I’m writing an article that has a few memories of my father at the moment, but I’ll run it past my family before I publish it and I wish Jaeger had run her thoughts past Turnbull and Navratilova before she spoke. As for Carlos and Smith, it’s probably too late to do anything.