Many years ago, after pro tennis player Chris Evert married Andy Mills and had settled into motherhood, she said something to the effect that her prior life had been all about her. The way she said it led me to think she had at least one prior abortion. While she’d had an otherwise solid reputation, I also figured that no one is pristine.
In 1974, when Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert had their romance, I was in first grade. I knew little to nothing about tennis–although I would become an avid player and fan in my teen years–but I remember Chris Evert becoming a household name. Jimmy Connors, who won three of the four majors that year, wasn’t bad in his own right.
They had been engaged, but broke off that engagement quite abruptly. Most had chalked that up to some combination of Connors’ playboy lifestyle–he would eventually marry a Playboy playmate–and their youth, as well as the logistics of two top-ranked tennis players being under the same roof.
Well, last year, Connors, in his autobiography, provided more insight into the breakup. During their youthful bliss, Chris Evert became pregnant, and, well, that couldn’t get in the way of her career. In Connors’ own words, he didn’t really consent, but didn’t really fight it either. At any rate, after that, the relationship ended.
Connors and Evert would go their separate ways: Evert would become one of the greatest women tennis players of all time. Her winning percentage–over 90%–is the best ever, and Martina Navratilova probably accounts for most of that 10% of her defeats. Connors would enjoy his share of success: he would win five U.S. Opens and two Wimbledons, and a mother lode of other tournaments. Their personal lives were not without issues: Connors would marry, have children, and persevere despite his own infidelities; Evert would marry, have an affair, reconcile, divorce, remarry, have kids, have a midlife crisis, divorce, remarry, divorce, then really lose it.
Evert, by her own admission, described her attitude as one of entitlement.
The media raked Connors over the coals for talking about the abortion, with at least one outlet saying, “That isn’t his story to tell.” On that front, I disagree; the child was no less his than hers. While I understand Evert’s outrage at Connors’ outing her–no one likes having a skeleton in their closet put on full display–it is fair game.
Yes, Connors is a douchebag–and to a certain extent would probably wear the label–but it’s not like he doesn’t have the prerogative to discuss the impact of her decision on his life.
And yet we must all take in the warning here. Make no mistake: your character will eventually catch up with you. It may not always become a public matter, but–at some point–you are going to come face-to-face with the reality of your decisions.
Julius “Dr. J” Erving was an outspoken Christian in addition to being one of the most celebrated athletes in his day; with a reputation as a charitable gentleman, he often received cheers from opposing fans. Trouble is, he–for lack of better words–got around. An affair with a reporter would produce a child.
Doc would take responsibility: he provided for her financially, including her education. But he tried to keep everything hush-hush.
In 1999, an up-and-coming tennis player–Alexandra Stevenson–would make a splash of her own: she reached the semifinals at the 1999 Wimbledon. Some reporters did some digging into her background, and noticed that the father listed on her birth certificate was none other than Julius Winfield Erving. This would begin the public unraveling of Doc’s otherwise sterling reputation, as his infidelities would lead to the breakup of his marriage.
I say none of this to pile onto Doc or Chrissy. Truth be told, they are probably far from the worst offenders in their respective sports.
Still, the lesson here is poignant.