It has been over a week now since Andre Agassi was eliminated from his last tournament, the 2006 U.S. Open. A week ago Sunday was a very sad day for me as for the last 20 years I have watched Andre play and followed his illustrious career, and taken inspiration from a guy that got judged for how he looked, but in the end proved the substance of his character.
It was 20 years ago that a skinny, long-haired kid watched another skinny, long-haired kid play tennis for the first time. From that instant I was hooked on Andre. He had flair, he had style, but when he spoke he also was humble and nice. Sure many people looked at him and immediately wrote him off because of his look. That is painful because I experienced the same thing.
I remember in 1988 going to the fireworks in Wyandotte, MI with some friends. We went to the Wyandotte 7-11 to get some pop and food, but they were only letting a few people in at a time in order to keep shoplifting down. The manager was at the door letting people in as people left. I was next in line and joked with him about needing to hire more employees. I had long-hair, I was wearing my slashed up blue-jeans, I had a painters hat on backwards and was wearing a concert t-shirt. The manager looked me up and down and said: "I'd never hire you with the way you look." Never mind that I had a job that I worked very hard at, and no I didn't dress like that for work. But this guy wrote me off simply because of how I look.
Andre eventually cut his hair, as did I. Life also made him, as it has a way of doing, grow-up and mature. And what a player and man he grew and matured into. Winning several grand-slams, countless single's titles on tour, and the hearts of tennis fans around the globe. More than that, Andre started his own foundation for at-risk youths, and continues to be one of the most generous athletes of our time.
After years of thrilling us on the court, making incredible shot after incredible shot, and using the greatest return-of-serve the game has ever seen, it is his off-court endeavors that really define this man. As he moves away from the game to take those endeavors on full-time, we as Andre fans will never forget what he did for the sport, and the inspiration he has given to so many to be the very best that you can be.
Thank you Andre! And good luck in all that life has in store for you.