We all know the celebrity book tour drill. Suddenly, a superstar is assaulting us from all imaginable media outlets with a gripping saga of failure and redemption that is, of course, told in much greater detail in a new book, which goes on sale tomorrow! That's what I initially suspected tennis star Andre Agassi was up to when he was everywhere doing interviews about his new book, "Open," which describes his former hatred for the sport that made him famous, drug use, bad hair days, and other torments.
But about halfway through his two-part Nov. 8 "60 Minutes" interview, I began to feel that Agassi, unlike other celebs, was not seeking to burnish his public image but was participating in its death and destruction, horrific detail by detail.
In "Andre Agassi's 'Atonement,'" a Q&A with the Wall Street Journal's Jim Chairusmi, the eight-time Grand Slam title winner explained his motives for doing the book (written with J.R. Moehringer, author of the moving memoir, The Tender Bar), even though it would have been easier not to:
I think one is always tempted to take the easy road and I certainly understood the cost that this would come with because I understood my process. I knew I couldn't just go halfway up this road. But anything worthwhile in life comes with work and risk. This was part atonement, as well. I had something that most people don't get, which is a second chance at my life. Everyday has been a form of atonement. And this book is that.
I had a lot more to lose than to gain, but if it could help people--and I believe it gives tools and inspiration to real issues that all of us feel. There's not a person out there that doesn't know what it's like to be in a situation that, at times, they don't recognize.
There are some people who love it when religious concepts like atonement, redemption and transcendence are dispersed throughout our popular culture like the wind of the Spirit. But others experience a sensation of possessiveness and discomfort when these powerful words become unmoored from their grounding in theology.
But I think all journalists could agree on one thing. A celebrity's pronouncement that his public confessions equal atonement doesn't mean we cant ask follow-up questions like: - What does atonement mean to you? - Does any particular religious tradition or training inform your view of atonement? - Is atonement the same thing as forgiveness? - And do you still struggle with the personal and social consequences of your behavior?
I, for one, believe Agassi is seeking some form of atonement. But just because he (or some other celebrity) makes such a claim doesn't mean that journalists need to suddenlybecome reverential or passive. Instead, such claims call for more and deeper questions.
Agassi has been inviting the world into his soul. But most readers and viewers were left wondering what was really going on in there. If journalists had responded by going deeper with Agassi, the rest of us would have gained a better understanding of this complex man's troubled inner life.