What Andre Agassi found

I don’t usually write about sports here, but what the heck, I’m a crazy sports fan and I simply can’t pass up shining a bright light on Andre Agassi’s last moments at the U.S. Open this weekend. He lost his match, but in the end he won – big time. He found something we all need. If you haven’t been following the U.S. Open, this was to be Agassi’s last. Throughout weekend TV coverage of the tournament, which by the way takes place in Queens, N.Y. just across from Shea Stadium (the home of my red hot N.Y. Mets!), it was “All Agassi All-the-Time.” Then, after he lost to Benjamin Becker, he took to center court to say these few words to those in Arthur Ashe Stadium and viewers at home:

“The scorecard said I lost today, but what it doesn’t say is what it is I have found. And over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I’ve found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I’ve found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could never have reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you and I will take you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you.”
When Andre Agassi came onto the world tennis scene, sports’ observers characterized him as brash, obnoxious, jarring, self-absorbed, even a punk. Over the years his aggressive style of tennis remained consistent and true, an approach that dictates up-tempo, take the ball early, put pressure on your opponent, attack at all times, go for winners – and never play it safe.

But what’s changed about Agassi is… well, Agassi. He has changed – through adversity, in suffering injuries, when his world ranking plummeted, as new young players emerged, when cortisone shots were required for his ailing back so he could simply stand up and make his way back on court.

I found two things compelling about Agassi’s comments this weekend. First, was his choice of words. Anyone who has read this blog knows I love language. So, I urge you to take a moment and go back and read once more his post-match comments. Pull out for yourself key words.

What you’ll find are sentiments we too often fail to hear in public spaces these days, and perhaps that we ourselves too often fail to say and practice either in public or private.

Loyalty. Inspiration. Generosity. Dreams.
Second, too often we believe the only way to know ourselves is to talk about ourselves. Sometimes that is necessary. But it is also true that there are times when we can only come to know ourselves in pure silence – as we listen to others speak, only then to see and recognize things about ourselves.

Agassi made his way in tennis not only by blazing his own trail but, as he put it, by what “I have found.” What he discovered – what he now treasures and shared with the rest of us – he found in others first, and only then in himself.

I found his comments so moving because just at the moment when he was to talk about himself… when we expected him to talk about himself, well, he turned to the crowd and talked about them – what he had learned from them, gained from them, indeed, what he found in them.