In 1992 South African Bob Hewitt was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame. It’s possible that I was even there that year to see it. (I’d have to ask my dad.)
What very few knew then was that years later women from all over the globe would come forward with charges of sexual abuse against Hewitt, who served as a tennis coach in the US and abroad after his playing career was over. Various entities are investigating the charges, (the statute of limitations has expired in the US for filing criminal charges) but the Hall of Fame is not one of them–despite earlier promises that they would.
Abuse perpetuated by coaches is not an uncommon as we might like to believe. There have been years and years of silence in a myriad of sport: swimming, gymnastics, figure skating, among others. But sport federations and associations are starting to own up to the past and taking actions in the present to try to prove they will not turn a blind eye to sexual abuse.
When the US Gymnastics Hall of Fame found out last year that one of its inductees was accused of sexual abuse, they took him out of the HoF.
But apparently not wanting to get their hands too dirty with messes that happened long ago, the tennis HoF has opted to make a policy. What the policy will be and whether it will be applied only to potential future inductees is unknown because Executive Director Mark Stenning isn’t explaining the policy at all.
It’s interesting how the tennis powers that be are handling this situation versus other sports governance bodies. News of bad behavior by athletes and coaches emerges all the time. Sometimes it is handled; sometimes it is handled well; sometimes it is swept under the carpet. Sometimes awards and honors and medals are rescinded.
The people in Newport are sweeping this one as furiously as they possibly can under those nicely manicured grass courts. Stan Smith, current president of the HoF, will not comment on the issue.
And what I hadn’t really even thought of–until I read the above-linked Boston Globe article–was that this is not new for the tennis HoF. Andre Agassi admitted to lying about illegal drug use (the tennis community was somewhat complicit in this situation, though). Boris Becker was convicted of tax evasion. Vitus Gerulaitis was connected to a plan to sell cocaine. Bill Tilden was convicted of inappropriate sexual contact with minors.
And this year: Jennifer Capriati is the headline inductee. That picture of her after being arrested for shoplifting and in possession of marijuana is hard to forget.
This is not to say that all these people should automatically be expelled or not up for consideration, but rather that the HoF doesn’t seem to be considering the situations at all. Merely talking about them will tarnish the image of the sport–is what the HoF seems to be thinking. But failure to do so will have a much more negative effect.