Lacking Perspective

Andy Roddick is retiring from professional tennis at the age of 30. This is big news on the tennis scene, though it has been apparent for some time that he cannot compete with the three or four top players in the world. His game is one-dimensional: it’s all about power. In any event he is reportedly going to build a tennis center and that will be his focus in the years to come. This is what the world needs: another tennis center. Andre Agassi and John McEnroe have tennis centers as does Vic Braden and heaven only knows who else. One notes that it has almost become a cliché for the retired athlete to build an athletic center — in his own name, of course — to teach the skills (and “life lessons”) to younger players.

The bothersome thing is that the world really does not need more tennis centers! It needs people with excess money to think about real human needs and attempt to address some of them. Think of the good that Roddick, for example, could do with the money that will go to another tennis center to teach kids how to play tennis. 45 million people in this country go to bed hungry; the number of homeless people who live with their kids in a cheap motel or sleep in their cars grows daily; the planet itself demands our attention since, as Diane Keaton (of all people) has noted “climate change, like gravity, doesn’t give a damn whether you ‘believe’ in it or not. It’s happening regardless.” Now there’s a woman with perspective.

I have commented in a previous blog about the apparent lack of perspective of so many wealthy professional athletes, specifically Billie Jean King who did remarkable things to help give women a foot up in women’s tennis but also seems to be unaware that there are things besides tennis that really matter. As I noted in writing about Billie Jean’s appearance before a Congressional Committee to promote tennis: “Billie Jean King is on my rather short list of sports heroes, along with Phil Mickelson and Magic Johnson — folks who are keen to do the right thing, not just their own thing. But I have always thought Billie Jean stands too close to the trees to see the forest. Like so many professional athletes, she lives in a small world, though she is admittedly an exception in exhibiting any social awareness whatever. She has repeatedly spoken out for tennis and for women’s rights — important issues, to be sure, especially the latter. But despite her “platform” she has also been silent throughout her life on the larger issues that affect us all, issues that take priority over even women’s rights and especially the success of this country’s tennis programs. One must applaud her for wanting to “give back” and promote worthy causes. But one must also question her perspective and lack of a sense of priorities.”

It might be asked: this is their money why shouldn’t they do whatever they want with it? This is true, of course. But the question is whether there is something they should do with their money. There’s a moral principle involved here: when we know there is a wrong being committed and we are in a position to ameliorate that wrong we have an obligation to intercede. The wealthy — athletes included — are in a position to do great good given their wealth and their position in this culture. They cannot claim ignorance of the wrongs that are being done on a daily basis all around them. Therefore they have an obligation, as do we all, to intercede and try to rectify that wrong. These people travel the world but they don’t seem to see what is going on around them. Their world is the size of a tennis court or a golf course or a football field — with a few exceptions, as mentioned. The world could be such a better place if all of us could see the wider canvass — but especially those with tons of money they apparently don’t know what to do with!

19 thoughts on “Lacking Perspective

  1. When I see a cool, crazy expensive car or piece of jewelry, I question who would spend that kind of money on something with such limited function. On the plus side, at least he is not tucking the money away in an island bank account. Great post, as usual 8)

  2. You are spot on! I sometimes daydream about buying expensive items “when I’m rich” but feel guilty afterwards because I know I could never spend that much on something so worthless if I had that much money because of all of the people who need help. I don’t think tennis stars are the only rich people who do this, but good example. Tennis does seem extraordinarily wasteful.

  3. Now you’ve hit my button, and that’s the whole idea of sports in general. From High School, through college, then professional sports, somehow we’ve got it in our minds that these athletes are somehow special, and we treat them accordingly. How many college sports stars actually graduate? How many leave school just as illiterate as they day they entered school, because they were continually passed to the next grade on their ability to handle a ball? How many college scandals revolve around athletes and how many are given one pass after another after their having crossed the line.

    Overpaid sports stars begin to believe they are “special” even beyond their fields of endeavor. So, because they can catch a forward pass, they somehow don’t have to follow basic rules of decency, they are excluded from being held accountable to society’s expectations of behavior. They are handed so much cash, and watching what they spend it on makes a normal person, ill. A 20,000 SF mansion, Really? 7 Bentleys and a Ferrari in the garage? Really? Their talents on the ball field certainly don’t cross the abyss to their brains.

    Maybe I might admire the Roddicks of the world if he built his tennis center in the very heart of blighted Detroit, for example, and offered to train the inner city kids for free! Maybe I might admire him more is if he insisted they get an education at the same time they were learning their backhand. Maybe I might admire him more if he also provided hot meals, and coats in the cold of winter.

    We have a retired NFL player here in my city. What’s his contribution? A huge mansion on a bluff, and a “Sports” restaurant in the largest, most upscale mall in the area. Boy, am I impressed.

    And we have a local College that fields a football team and basketball team that are often on national TV. Of course, most members never actually get a degree, and more than a few have been arrested for assaults, public drunkeness, even rape, and one man is serving a life sentence for murder.

    So no, I’m not a sports fan, and am not shy in saying why when asked. They are spoiled, greedy, self-centered primadonnas, whose lives are over at 30. They are the poster children of the “Its all about me” world.

    Great post, and sorry about the diatribe.

    • You’re excused. See my article “The Tail That Wags The Dog” on my web page. I address many of the issues you raise here! Thanks for the input!!


      • Hugh, it’s important that you get your facts straight. I gave up the tennis college more than a decade ago to help disadvantaged children in Orange County, California. Financially, it has been a disaster for me as support disappeared with recession in 2008. Had I kept the Tennis College, I would have been able to fund the program myself. At the moment, we are in catastrophic situation.

      • Thanks for the correction, Vic — though I only alluded to you in order to make a point. But I am delighted you are doing good things with the youth in Orange County. As I see things, this makes you a part of a small part of the athletics community that really cares. Thanks again for the comment.

  4. Good post, although you know that I really respect what Billie Jean King did for women’s sports. For girls, sports are about so much more than the game – it builds confidence, teaches teamwork and tells girls that being strong and capable is a good thing. But Roddick and other, I completely agree could be doing much more to change the world around them.

    • I tried to find a balance there. I also agree that Billie Jean did a great deal for women’s rights and especially for women’s tennis. But given er position and prestige I thought she might be talking to Congress about more important things than increasing participation in tennis in this country! (Good to hear from you again!)


  5. Living out of the country has really opened my eyes. Although I miss my loved ones, I hava a hard time with culture shock. It’s worse each trip back! From driving in an air conditioned car just a few blocks to the next supersized vehicle to people plugging into the ‘drug’ television while tuning each other out instead of talking to each other. It’s often hard to hold my tongue!

    Many people like to beat their chests and boast about the good they are doing, though it’s the quiet humble soul doing random acts of kindness that gets my vote for making the biggest difference on our planet.


    • It’s his money, to be sure. But surely there are more important things to do with spare millions than teach tennis to kids — and I say this as a former USPTA professional and a successful tennis coach at the college level. It’s about priorities.


      • It sounds like Andy simply lent his name to the foundation which his mother runs. But if he is heavily involved — and gives much of his money to the foundation I will move him to my short list of athletes who do some good for the rest of the world! Thanks for clearing this up!

      • He specifically said at the U.S. Open that he doesn’t want to be someone in name only and that his time would be devoted to his Foundation after his retirement.

        However, even if he didn’t, I will always give credence to a Foundation because they are vastly different from non-profits. I can contribute to Roddick’s Foundation, or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but it does nothing for my tax burden. Contributions to Foundations are not tax deductible yet they get their money from somewhere, i.e., the extremely rich who want to do something to help.

        The Rockefellers were the same way with the Rockefeller Foundation.

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