Back in the late 80s/early 90s, I was a Andre Agassi fan.  I remember thinking how cool Andre’s life must be…jetting around the world, winning the big tournaments, making the big bucks.  Like many others, I liked Andre because he was a tennis rebel in an often lame world of white shirt tennis guys.  Agassi seemed to be a sort of Gen X rebel with an attitude.

Canon picked up on the Agassi craze and launched an ad campaign early in the tennis star’s career around the rebel concept.  In one ad, Agassi famously quips “Image is Everything.” The line was interesting because you could interpret it in a few different ways: i) a play on words because the product was actually a camera capturing images ii)  a tongue-in-cheek slogan about Agassi’s image iii) a pseudo serious claim that creating some type of outlandish image is required if you wanted to be a winner or cool in the “mullet-infested” early 90s.

An image that ruins your image

In his new tell all book Open, Agassi laments this campaign and rants against the ad agency, the Canon execs and everyone involved in making him parrot the image is everything slogan.  While kids & fans idolized Agassi, the sports media bashed him because he became a cultural star before really proving himself to be a true champion.  The sports media saw the Canon campaign rightly portraying Agassi as a guy with style, but no substance.

Part of the reason (I believe) Agassi decided to write Open was to debunk the idea that he was only an image conscious narcissist who used style and flamboyance to get sports marketing deals.  In the book, Agassi definitely reveals his own flaws as well as the flaws of many others he loves (hates?)  Interestingly, in doing so, the press has come out strongly on his side, with glowing reviews of Open.  Indeed, with Open, Agassi may have benefited from the Pratfall effect…

Pratfall Effect?

Psychologists studying the “pratfall effect” find that when a person is generally competent, making a blunder can actually increase others’ liking of that individual (See this article.)  Agassi’s life appears to be 1 giant blunder in Open.  Hearing that the Gen X star was really a pyromaniac, self-loather, people pleaser, part-time drug user, tennis hater, etc. hurts.  But in some ways, it also reminds us that we’re not perfect either.

Reformed Perfectionista & People Pleaser

There’s one brutally honest part when Brad Gilbert calls out Agassi for trying too hard to be perfect on the court:

When you chase perfection, when you make perfection the ultimate goal, do you know what you’re doing?  You’re chasing something that doesn’t exist.  You’re making everyone around you miserable.  You’re making yourself miserable.  Perfection?  There’s about 5 times a year you wake up perfect, when you can’t lose to anybody, but it’s not those 5 times a year that make a tennis player.  Or a human being for that matter.

I’m not a big fan of Gilbert, but I like the idea that we take ourselves too seriously and forget that we’re flawed humans.

No Purpose Man Finds Purpose

Agassi also admits that he saw no purpose or meaning in Tennis.  As his career progresses, it is great to see how he transforms his thinking and realizes that he’s been given all these resources & the gift of celebrity to help people (e.g. Agassi prep academy, Agassi Foundation for Education).  As his website notes…Since retiring in 2006, Andre Agassi has increased his focus on his Foundation and on promoting education reform. He is also building a lifestyle business through endorsement relationships, joint venture investments and real estate development.

But wait, reread the last part of the paragraph above…don’t think for a second that Agassi hasn’t lost his touch with the commercial world; he’s knows he’s still in the lifestyle business.

The Brands are Still There

Agassi has re-fashioned his image over the past decade into family man + philanthropist and the Brands have stayed with him (Adidas, Longines, etc, etc.)  Kreiss even has a Steffi/Andre collection.  Agassi communicates about his activities on this blog.  He definitely still understands the value of image building as he even keeps a PR CEO on his advisory board.

My Own Blunder…

To sum up my rambling comments on the Agassi autobiography, I think Open provides an honest look into the world of a conflicted Sports idol and his relationships/entourage…additionally, Agassi provides some interesting insights into the celebrity world & sports sponsorship/marketing world.  Hopefully he also scares overzealous sports parents into backing off their kids a bit.  Admittedly, I did wonder why Agassi happily promotes this book, which clearly is meant for an adult audience (rough language, etc.) on his education foundation website with an article next to it entitled Agassi’s past doesn’t diminish what he does now.

Maybe on a later blog post I’ll reveal more about my own blunder in trying to get Andre to sit next to me & my German wife in a Stuttgart hotel pub during a Tyson fight.  During the evening, my wife & I were chatting with Brad Gilbert & the rest of Agassi’s entourage.  Agassi walked in and I abruptly asked him to sit with us.  He wouldn’t do it as he probably thought I was a crazed fan.  However, he did shake my hand and we had a small chat about the 1994 US Open.

I embarrassed my own entourage a bit that night with my uncool behavior though.

We all make mistakes…

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