It was just minutes after Ryan Braun’s suspension had been announced to the world by Major League Baseball on Monday night that one of sports’ most outspoken athletes sat behind a microphone, and instead of talking about his pending Mylan World TeamTennis Match with fellow star Jim Courier, John McEnroe was pulled into the steroid debate. Here was Braun, former National League MVP, an athlete thought to have been above reproach and never convicted in a court of law about anything, handed down a severe sentence by the powers that be. Could such a thing happen in tennis?
“No I don’t think so at this point,” McEnroe offered up. “I would say we are one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest, sport when it comes to steroids, because of the precautions and the testing that is now done. I don’t see it being an issue we will have to deal with because of the way tennis is being run these days.”
McEnroe’s sentiments were echoed by another past champion never known to hold back her thoughts, Hall of Famer Billie Jean King. "Our sport is as clean now than ever, and it’s because of the fact that anyone, at any time, knows they can be subject to a drug test,” King said. “It’s a shame what has happened in other sports, but I think with regard to steroids, tennis is not a sport with major issues.”
Some critics have pointed to the fact that positive tests only seem to effect lower-ranked players, though one former player may disagree. France’s Natalie Tauziat said in her book, Les Dessous Du Tennis Feminin, that steroids were rampant on the WTA Tour at one point but never offered any proof. Overall though, tennis, according to some its greatest names seems to be doing just fine in terms of anti-doping.
McEnroe, who was raising money for his thriving tennis academy in New York, said the problem with American tennis these days is not performance enhancement like baseball, it’s getting more young athletes to partake in the game.
“We need a bigger share of the better athletes here, like happens in other countries,” he said. “Until that happens we won’t get back to the top of the pack in terms of stars.”
Courier, the current U.S. men’s Davis Cup captain, agreed with McEnroe that deepening the player pool is essential for the game to get back to high professional ranks in the States.
“What John is doing with his Academy is the right thing, we need to expose more young athletes to tennis, and from that, at facilities like this one, is where new stars will emerge,” he said.
McEnroe added that he did think the current young crop of players—Sam Querry, Jack Sock, Jonathan Isner among them—are of the more athletic type than a more recent generation, but more still needs to be done.
“That’s why we have our Academy here at Sportime in the shadow of Manhattan,” he added. “So we can give those young athletes a chance to see what tennis is all about, and hope that they take it up for life.”
One thing that all three champions agreed upon was that PEDs in any sport make it harder for those willing to do it right to be successful.
“You look at some sports and see the issues they are having and you hope that it doesn’t become an issue in your sport, like tennis,” McEnroe added. “I don’t think it has or it will, and it is certainly talked about so much today, but it is not something I really worry about right now.”
American star power: yes; creating a Ryan Braun out of a young crop of elite tennis players: not an issue. That should come as good news for tennis fans from three outspoken voices of the game in Courier, McEnroe and King. Hopefully the next generation, which all are helping to create, will feel the same.
Jerry Milani is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.