Last week, Johan was asked by two different radio hosts about his thoughts on drugs in tennis.
MY TAKE: and I hope this sparks a serious debate about drugs in tennis before it is TOO LATE!
Back in 1979 and 1980 there were discussions within the ATP and its leadership on how to keep tennis clean from pros using drugs (my feeling was that there were just too many “rumors” of drug use, specifically “recreational drugs”). Remember Studio 54, Miami Vice, etc….etc? All so glamorous and fun….
The ATP in the summer of 1980 (if my memory serves me correctly) had a big meeting at the Gloucester Hotel in London the weekend before Wimbledon, and it was unanimous that any player could be randomly picked for a drug test at that time. We were the first pro sports in the history of sports to implement such drug testing rules.
After my 5 set loss to Bjorn Borg in the 1980 US Open semifinals I was escorted by security to the Marriott Hotel at La Guardia airport to be drug tested which was strictly a urine test. I was told I was the first pro player to be tested randomly under the rules. I was perfectly happy to do so since I had absolutely nothing to hide. I never heard back from anybody which confirmed I was no drug user of any kind. But doesn’t it suck to know you are clean to be “proven innocent”…..but this was the beginning of the ATP’s drug testing path.
With Alex Rodriguez’s situation and the decades long baseball drug suspensions, and Pete Rose’s ridiculously over the top suspension for betting while others still play who use PED’s, the NFL steroid history, and many, many deaths most likely caused by the abuse of steroids (this is all very well documented), plus the pro-cycling tour’s doping scandals, and the fact that the names of pro tennis players are starting to pop up more and more in papers. I am very concerned as a former top ATP player that this kind of publicity is going to “kill the goose that lay the golden egg.” But that is just one concern….
I know, there are people — many, in fact — who don’t care that there are PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs) and openly think it is OK to let athletes use whatever they want, and let it go on like that. But here is my argument: If an athlete then decides the risks are too high, and wants to stay “clean” and compete as such, such athlete will not be competitive! Is that fair? Of course not! What about the results physically long term on a body? We know a lot of it is very bad and some may get away with being OK, but too many will suffer very negatively. I am no scientist but I hope some scientist will comment and tell us what each of these drugs can do to a body, short term and long term.
The second argument for me is, how do I tell my own flesh and blood kids that if they want to be competitive, you better start using HGH at age 8 so you can become taller. Or that they will have to use PED’s for as long as they want to be competitive on the pro tennis tours! What kinda world will we live in? Sure, those that like to see car and train wrecks will not give a damn and will probably not mind if somebody has a ”roid-rage” episode on court or on TV in front of millions and decapitate a linesman or skewer a fan with the sharp end of a “smithereened” racket since he did not like his “cheering”!
I don’t pretend to have the answers to this. It is a vexing and very difficult subject since it has so many issues coming with it. I see juniors in tennis and I wonder why is this girl or boy 6 foot 4 and only 14 years old, and the parents are 5’8″? Must be from the grandparents … Yeah, right …
To what length will some of these crazy parents go to get an “advantage” for their child? And more importantly, should there be drug testing in juniors and if so, at what age should they be randomly tested? It is just mind-boggling to me to even think in these terms but that is where it is heading! What about the issue of a kid who “unknowingly” is being “fed” stuff and maybe knows and doesn’t want to do it — what then? How sickening is that! And it has happened in junior sports!
Here is a thought for at least the ATP Tour (I cannot speak for the WTA Tour but perhaps they have issues, too):
Have random drug tests, lots of them, for the top 250 to 500 players. Make it an industry! You drop into any of those rankings for a minute you are “fair game”. Test each person at any time, at any tournament, while on vacation, in Richard Branson’s spaceship…I don’t care. If you cannot do it, immediate suspension for two years. You refuse, lifetime suspension. You fail the test first time, lifetime suspension. Period! Make drug issues a NON-ISSUE this way. I don’t care if you are number 1 in the world or number 500, everybody gets treated the same. In order to safeguard against “influences”, spread these drug testing centers all around the world. Only very few people will know where all of them are. Perhaps switch testing centers constantly so there will not be any chance of “meddling” with results. Maybe have a minimum of 5 drug testing facilities, maybe even more. One gets a result back and it is 3-2? Adios!
I liken this scourge of drugs in sports to a slow growing cancer. Eventually it will kill, so it is better to ”cut it out” early when noticed and treat it aggressively.
BTW….I know I will never be asked to head the ATP so being a wishy washy politician is never going to be my philosophy. I tell it the way I see it..
I am very worried. You may ask me why am I worried…..
“You are done playing so why inject yourself in this, you old fart!”
Because my whole life was/still is TENNIS! I was always told that hard work, fair play, and honor are qualities needed to succeed. Now you tell me it is irrelevant??!!
On top of it, I am coaching future college kids, maybe even future champions! I am changing lives and now I am to feel like if I keep doing this and pros are openly using drugs all I stand for is in FULL ASSAULT and I will be IRRELEVANT in the near future!! That is completely UNACCEPTABLE!!
Here is another issue — look what happened to a situation like Southern chef Paula Dean who had used a racial slur. She lost a HUGE amount of MONEY, companies dropped her like a hot potato, and her reputation is tarnished, perhaps for life! For a “word” she used and her life and business are destroyed!
I sincerely hope the 4 Majors and ALL ”powers that be” in our wonderful sport start dealing with this as the HIGHEST priority in sorting this out ASAP. SPONSORS all around the world should say to the ATP Tour leaders, if this continues to “crop up” we will WALK!
Maybe it is easier to hit them (players) hard in the “pocketbook” than it is “morally”. But that is what modern man feels the most. Sad but true: we value money more than “values” themselves…
I hope this sparks a HUGE debate……”