OTLTennis

ESPN’s Pam Shriver: “I believe the sport needs to look at this.”

Tennis Hall of Famer uses her own example to help sports be better informed about inappropriate coaching relationships

After 40-plus years of silence, ESPN’s Pam Shriver this week tells her personal story as a warning to the institutions, coaches, and athletes in tennis and other sports of the potential dangers in the coach/athlete relationship – “I believe the sport needs to look at this.”

On Wednesday, in an article in London’s The Telegraph, on “The Tennis Podcast,” and on ESPN’s Outside the Lines (watch excerpt above), the tennis Hall of Famer and ESPN commentator of more than 30 years revealed a deeply personal account of her own experience as a young player on tour to serve as a cautionary tale to today’s young athletes.

For the first time, Shriver tells the emotionally wrenching story of her five-plus year coach/athlete relationship with a married man 33 years her senior that started when she was 17. The emotional and physical relationship impacted her play on the court and well being off the court for years to follow.

Tennis can lead the way here and end up with the best safeguarding policies so that future generations of young players coming onto the tour have the best chance to know how to keep their professional relationships professional and not have them cross over into the blurred boundaries of personal relationships that can be abusive. – Pam Shriver

“Abuse and crossing-over of lines is not just something that happens on the women’s tour,” she says on the podcast. “So I believe the sport needs to look at this through every one of it seven main entities (ATP, WTA, the four Majors, and the ITF). As well as, especially, the federations need to really start the education, because by the time most of the players reach the tour, the dye has really been cast.

“It is complex, but people need to talk about it. It needs to come out of the dark places of our sport.

“Tennis can lead the way here and end up with the best safeguarding policies so that future generations of young players coming onto the tour have the best chance to know how to keep their professional relationships professional and not have them cross over into the blurred boundaries of personal relationships that can be abusive.”

On the OTL segment of Wednesday’s SportsCenter, reporter and colleague Jeremy Schaap asked her, “How did that relationship affect you?”

“It affected me in almost every way. He was 33 years older, he was married…I felt a lot of shame and guilt and I felt a lot of anger and jealousy when his wife would come to tournaments. … I wasn’t the only one. We weren’t the only boundary-crossing relationship on the tour at the time…. Everyone’s first relationship is so important, and this one was just…wrong.”

I just feel like it’s time, for me. I feel like it’s important for my healing, and it’s important that I can maybe feel that me coming forward and talking about my story in detail might just help a few young players. – Shriver

“Why now?” Schaap asked.

Shriver said: “Most of the time in my life, I just kept moving forward. I never allowed myself enough time to think about what happened and really how damaging the relationship was, how it hurt my tennis, my performance, how it hurt my ability to form healthy relationships moving forward in my life…I just feel like it’s time, for me. I feel like it’s important for my healing, and it’s important that I can maybe feel that me coming forward and talking about my story in detail might just help a few young players.”

Pam Shriver, seen here interviewing Roger Federer in 2015, has been an ESPN commentator for more than 30 years. (Allen Kee/ESPN Images)

Schaap asked, “What can the sport do at the organizational level in this regard to prevent these kinds of relationships?”

Shriver: “I think there’s a lot that the sport can do. There needs to be a lot more education and training….to understand all the pitfalls that are there…I didn’t understand it at the time, but I see it so clearly now. I just hope my story and telling my story in great detail on the podcast, that it will help some players realize that when they’re really young that they need the education and training as to why not to cross those boundaries.”

Jamie Reynolds, Vice President, Executive Producer of ESPN tennis, first met Shriver in the 1980s and has led the ESPN tennis team since 2007.

Reynolds said: “All athletes – regardless of age, gender, or where they are on the arc of their career – put tremendous faith in those who help them perform at their best, and that relationship requires responsibility and respect.

“Pam has been a powerful voice on gender equity and one of the strongest advocates for the younger players on the women’s tour,” he continued. “Sharing her experience is a reminder of just how fragile that balance of trust and commitment can be between athletes and coaches.”

Below is a sampling of social media reaction to Shriver’s story:

Jeremy Schaap interviews Pam Shriver. (ESPN)
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