So what should we think about the troubling news of the alleged Halloween night attack by the Tennis Channel broadcaster and ATP Board Member Justin Gimelstob?
According to reports, Justin wore a costume as a Top Gun pilot in West LA and attacked Randall Kaplan from behind, hitting the venture capitalist some 50 times in front of Kaplan’s wife and child while continuously calling out, “I’m going to f—-ing kill you.” According to the LA Times, Kaplan reported that “The attack left him with ‘large contusions and bruises on my face’ along with other bruises and possibly a concussion” and that Gimelstob yelled that he would kill Kaplan. The alleged victim is reportedly a friend of Gimelstob’s estranged wife who had contacted Justin’s divorce lawyer to urge him to ask his client to stop threatening him. Justin’s father, whom he was very close to, had died just five days before the attack. Gimelstob was arrested on suspicion of felony battery and released on $50,000 bail.
Gimelstob, 41, once described himself as a “serviceable player.” He reached No. 63, won two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles with Venus Williams and earned $2.5 million. At his last match as a pro in 2007, one sensed this singular man would be different. After losing to Andy Roddick at the US Open, the New Jersey native took over the on-court interview and shamelessly asked Roddick and himself clever questions. The adept go-getter soon landed jobs at Sports Illustrated.com and The Tennis Channel.
There he promptly evolved into a top-level analyst with a quick mind and keen insights based on years of experience and great access. Plus, he was a witty and compelling observer. For example: Justin explained that Pete Sampras had a great serve because “when he came out of his mother’s womb, God spent a little extra time on his right shoulder.” Insiders soon realized that the New Jersey-born, UCLA educated Gimelstob, who played Davis Cup and scored wins over Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and Guga Kuerten was savvy, fearless and assertive. A gifted tennis politician, skilled networker and locker-room staple, he became friends with many, from Roddick and Federer, to Davenport and Djokovic. He briefly was a tournament promoter in LA, and eventually got elected to the ATP Board and successfully coached John Isner. He often offered comments to Inside Tennis. He drew attention when he appeared in the Wimbledon Royal Box. And he gained praise for being a loving dad and for his loyalty to his childhood tennis coach and younger brother, who were both imprisoned. Clearly, Justin had many skills, and crafted a striking rise into the upper echelons of tennis – heady stuff.
But there was a troubling undercurrent – a history of disturbing issues. It wasn’t so much that he once made a foreboding comment that spoke of self-sabotage: “I have the amazing ability, with one point, to turn a 100% pro-Gimelstob crowd into a 100% anti-Gimelstob crowd.” Then there was the time he looked up at the Royal Box and saw “a really hot girl in the front row. I was looking at her [and] thought ‘Okay, if I play [well] here, maybe I have a shot. Then I saw Borg…[and thought it’s] probably not going to happen.”
More to the point, Gimelstob made demeaning comments about gay men and women and in 2005 claimed that WTA players live in a “bizarro” world, with more and more skimpy outfits, and predicted that “courts will resemble volleyball courts, with G-strings and bikinis.” Justin contended that women players who looked like “beached whales” should keep their clothes on, and were in competition with the supermodel types who often date ATP players. He added that women players “have to share the players’ lounge with the one percent most beautiful creatures in the world.”
Three years later, on a Washington D.C. radio show, he called Marcelo Rios a “scumbag,” said Alize Cornet and Tatiana Golovin were “sexpots” and was disparaging of lesbians. Then he criticized Anna Kournikova. After calling her a bitch, a douche and an a–, he said, “I’m going to serve it right at the body, about 128 [mph], right into her midriff. If she is not crying by the time she comes off court then I did not do my job.” He added, “I wouldn’t mind having my younger brother, who is a kind of a stud, nail her and then reap the benefits.”
The London Times offered only a flippant response: “So long as there are women around, there will be men making titanic bloody fools of themselves.” Tennis’ response was modest. Gimelstob lost his Sports Illustrated job, and pricey USTA ads that featured him were pulled. But he soon returned to play World Team Tennis and kept his Tennis Channel position. Justin offered apologies, but some felt he didn’t really get it – he didn’t understand the magnitude of his hurtful comments and didn’t take full accountability.
Disconcerting developments continued. In 2016 his wife filed a restraining order that claimed Justin “physically assaulted, harassed, verbally attacked and stole [a cell phone.]” Justin denied it all. After Gimelstob’s recent alleged Halloween assault, his lawyer said “Unsurprisingly, there is another side to this story and Justin will vigorously defend himself against these claims.”
A spokesperson for the alleged victim, Randall Kaplan, told IT that he had received many texts, emails and calls from people describing assaults by Justin. Plus, London’s Daily Telegraph reported an incident in which “Gimelstob persued Kris Thabit, another friend of his estranged wife Cary, out of a Santa Monica restaurant in November 2016 and began an altercation which allegedly left Thabit with a cut lip.” The Telegraph also wrote that, “Gimelstob allegedly had to be pulled back by a group of players, officials and spectators after trying to choke an opponent at a paddle tennis tournament in Venice Beach…a year ago.” In another incident, Gimelstob supposedly grabbed the throat of an opponent at a paddleball tournament in Long Beach.
In response to this most recent alleged assault, Aussie Lleyton Hewitt has called for the ATP Board to remove Gimelstob, but the group has not made any significant comments or taken any actions. The Tennis Channel released this statement: “Justin asked Tennis Channel for a leave of absence…As he is a long-time, valued member of our network family, we of course granted it to him. We believe that in today’s climate, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to recognize due process and the fact that there are multiple sides to every story. We don’t want to rush to immediate judgment, and will follow this closely as more detail comes to light.”
If the charges prove true will Gimelstob follow in the unfortunate footsteps of tournament promoter Ray Moore, the London Times writer Neil Harman and the ESPN broadcaster Doug Adler, and suddenly lose his career? And, far worse, could he end up in jail? Those who care for Justin hope he somehow finally “gets it,” becomes accountable and puts his life together.