American tennis great Pam Shriver shot to fame in 1978 after beating the legendary Martina Navratilova in the US Open and eventually went on to win multiple individual titles in her career that also saw a fruitful doubles partnership with the Czech.
But, behind all the glory, resided a dark story that did not see the light of day till very recently when Shriver came out and spoke up about her disturbing relationship with long term coach Don Candy.
In an attempt to raise awareness of the perils of romantic escapades within a professional environment the American lawn tennis star of yesteryear revealed to the public her inappropriate bond with a near 50-year-old Candy at the tender age of 17.
Her reasons for holding back from speaking up about the dubious topic for multiple reasons, most of which are understandable from a humane level, make one sympathise with the younger self of the now 59-year-old.
Back in the late 1970s when Shriver was coming of age, she started developing feelings for her much older coach despite the man being married to Elaine Candy and confessed that she was starting to fall in love with the Australian.
Now, there are absolutely no two ways about how Candy should have handled this awkward situation from a moral standpoint. Being the older person, he should have warned the young Shriver about the ill-suited nature of the prospect and set her straight. However, life, apparently, isn’t that straightforward and thus began the misguided endeavour.
The affair lasted for about 5 years before Shriver realised the toll the tasteless relationship was taking on her and the toxic nature of blurring professional and personal lines had a massive impact on her game.
After being doubtful about the negative impact ending the relationship with her coach would have on her tennis career, she finally decided to take a sabbatical from tennis and put an end to the ill-advised relationship with Candy. Both professional and personal.
She switched coaches in the early 1980s as she started working with Hank Harris and later Eric Riley. After the break up with Candy, Shriver played some of the most successful tennis of her career as she collected 15 titles and held an amazing win rate of around 80 per cent. Though she used Candy as a coaching consultant, there was no attempt to rekindle the bond, for which she is thankful.
The star from Baltimore shed light on the traumatic phase of her life as she now feels that the culture of silence around such situations needs to be broken and more people have to speak up regarding the same to empower and safeguard anonymous or budding athletes from such dangers that exist in the sporting world.
Education, she believes, is the key factor to instilling an intrinsic change in the customs that have been followed over the years so as to not permit any opportunity for young athletes to be exploited in any way by adult staff or trainers.
“Our first and biggest obstacle is the culture of silence. If we’re going to protect tomorrow’s athletes, more people need to speak about their stories. We’re talking about pitfalls that affect many, many people. The whole issue needs to come out of the dark places of sport. But are the authorities ready to listen?”
She feels that the widespread problem needs to be tackled from an institutional perspective with the support of ITF, WTA and ATP inculcating mandated training and learning programs for veterans working with youngsters. And of course, the enforcement of strict codes and principles and reprimands for those who fail to uphold high moral and ethical standards.
Young athletes, she feels, should also be educated and made aware of the hazards that arise when the boundaries between personal and professional life are erased, especially in the high-pressure world of sport bolstered by the growing media attention that seems to have an endless appetite.
Shriver urged the authorities to take a more cautious and sensitive approach to any measure dealing with the careers of up and coming sportsmen and women which in turn would undoubtedly have a magnanimous effect on the personal life of the athletes.
Teenagers are no strangers to mistakes and bad choices. In fact, it might be one of those things that make the uncertain and puzzling period of adolescence beautiful and crucial in the building of one’s character. Young boys and girls should be granted the freedom to walk their own path and explore life for what it is, but, grown-ups will be able to rest a little bit easier if the authorities work hard enough and strive to build up confidence as beacons of righteousness who are willing to go the extra mile to protect the innocence and integrity of the sons and daughters of the millions of people who hold the purity and authenticity of sport in the highest of regard.