As dejected as some may feel about Agassi’s admission that he used Crystal Meth back in 1997, we have to remember that he’s also human. I recall Oprah’s admission in early 1995 that she once used cocaine in her 20s. Winfrey, talking with a woman on her show, said:
I relate to your story so much. In my twenties, I have done this drug [cocaine]. I know exactly what you’re talking about. It is my life’s great big secret. It is such a secret because I realize that the public person that I have become, if the story were ever revealed, the tabloids would exploit it and what a big issue it would be. But I was involved with a man in my twenties who introduced me to [cocaine].
This was shocking to some of her fans. She was even attacked gleefully by some pundits and commentators. But Oprah’s admission showed me that all of us (yes, all of us) have demons we have fought off, and have experienced low points in our lives we would love to forget. This is why I didn’t stop watching or supporting Oprah Winfrey. I didn’t stop buying Fergie’s records because she admitted to using meth in the past. And it is unlikely that I will stop supporting Andre Agassi.
I remember the wild ways of his youth. The rock star hair, and the narcissistic persona. I was always spellbound by his on-court heroics. But the older he became, the more I also respected him for the thoughtful way he approached tennis. He graduated from his self-absorbed image of the 80s by cultivating a more charitable image, and in the process, became a true statesman for the game of tennis.
But there’s an even more compelling point about Agassi: he believes in using the full equity of his celebrity to make a difference in the lives of others. His Andre Agassi Foundation is ample proof. He has used a lot of his own fortune to position the foundation as an outspoken advocate and proponent of great educational opportunites for children. In fact, his internationally recognized Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, located in the heart of Las Vegas, graduated its first senior class this past June. This is a significant milestone for his school. It’s located in one of the most economically challenging parts of the city, but 100% of the graduates are going to college. 100%!
I am not excusing drug use. I just don’t believe this admission should define Agassi. I loved seeing his electrifying shots on the tennis court, as well as his epic four and five sets matches with Pete Sampras that dominated ESPN Classic in the 1990s. Most most of all, I love what he’s doing right now: creating opportunities for our youth and encouraging innovation in our battered public education system.
This couldn’t be an easy thing for Agassi to admit publicly. I plan on reading his autobiography which I’m sure will provide further context. To be clear, I don’t get any joy in seeing someone fail or go through hard times. If anything, I try to lend a hand, and be supportive. That’s where I am with this story.
Tarnished legacy? No. Agassi’s legacy will be defined by the totality of his life, not by past drug.