Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Honesty, the worst policy

Well. I bet you know who Bernard Tomic is now.

Who he is, is the 59th-ranked tennis player in the world, and given that the general public (particularly the general public in America) couldn't identify the 10th-ranked tennis player in the world on a bet, that makes him about as anonymous as a person can be who plays a professional sport for a living. But he's 24 years old, and Australian, and he's been playing professional tennis all over the world since he was 17.

And now you have occasion to know all that, because yesterday at Wimbledon he hauled off and did something we always say we want athletes to do, until they actually do it.

He was honest with us.

Got up there in front of the media after a dispirited 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 first-round loss to Mischa Zverev, and basically said he didn't care. Said his head was in a bad place right now. Said, in effect, he was bored with the game.

"I feel holding a trophy or doing well, it doesn't satisfy me anymore," Tomic said. "It's not there. I couldn't care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose first round. To me, everything is the same. You know, I'm going to play another 10 years, and I know after my career I won't have to work again.

"So for me this is mental."

In the age of Twitter and all-encompassing social media, you can imagine how this went over. Fans called for him to give back his prize money and renounce his Australian citizenship. Former Aussie star Pat Cash declared him a national embarrassment. American coach Brad Gilbert essentially said he was a disgrace and should go get a real job.

Me?

I think it just sounds like he needs to take some time off. Simple as that.

I also think this is the last time I'd better hear anyone complain about athletes who speak fluent I'm Just Here To Help The Ballclub, and rattle off clich├ęs like machine gun fire.

Because, listen, the firestorm Tomic created by getting caught telling the truth is exactly why so many athletes hardly ever do it. It's why, confronted with pointed questions, they fall back to Platitude City and regroup. It's why Tiger Woods' father drilled him on proper press conference etiquette -- i.e., give the most minimal answer possible to even the most innocuous question, and never, ever, ever offer anything that isn't directly asked.

Which resulted in the media soon characterizing Woods as some sort of bloodless android. He didn't give us anything, and we came to see it as a character flaw.

And then along comes Tomic, who's being vilified because he wasn't a bloodless android.

Sure, it was bad form, particularly at hallowed old Wimbledon, to say you didn't really give a hang about tennis anymore. But I'd bet my house there are any number of guys out that there slogging around the tour who feel the same way. It's a grind, the pro tennis tour. And even if you're playing a game for a living, eventually even playing a game for a living comes to feel like a job.

It happens. I suspect it happens  a lot more than you think. It might even happen to a lot of the people who say "Why, I'd pay to play (insert sport here) for a living."

Sure, maybe at first. But after awhile, in spite of themselves, they'd come to appreciate that paycheck.

Not that you'd ever get them admit it.

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