Thoughts On My Provocative Exchange with Djokovic

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News Straits Times

Bill Simons

Wimbledon

Following the ATP’s deeply problematic handling of Justin Gimelstob’s violent behavior in which he punched Randall Kaplan at least 50 times in the presence of trick or treating children and reportedly precipitated a miscarriage, Stan Wawrinka sent his “Silence Amounts to Complicity” letter to the London Times. His May 4th call from the heart was far more powerful than any of his groundstrokes.

He stated, “I have always been taught to stand up for what I believe…What I have witnessed in the last few months is a worrying decline in moral standards…Many within the game think this episode is now over and are simply relieved at not having any negative press themselves. This is not good enough. We are ALL accountable and we must ALL learn from this.

“There is no place in our sport for those who behave like Justin. The lack of responses in people in the game…was alarming. This is a situation where silence amounts to complicity…[The board] should have immediately managed this controversy. Instead, they shamefully voted in December for Justin to continue…I do not want to be associated with anyone who played a part in this…I want to be represented by people with clear, strong ethical values…The fault lies…in the caliber of people within it. This political chaos is caused by a handful of people with personal agendas… It is more important than ever that anyone with a public platform leads by example and demonstrates real values – Honesty, Kindness, Trust, Friendship.”

Just this weekend, on the eve of Wimbledon, after exhaustive deliberations, four ATP leaders resigned. The reasons were not all that clear.

What was clear was a disturbing comment by Novak Djokovic on Monday. The ATP Council President was asked, “Would you consider Justin Gimelstob getting his seat back?” Novak replied, “I’m not sure, to be honest.”

To me, Gimelstob should not be banned forever from tennis. But he pled no contest after being charged with a brutal attack and he has a history of very questionable incidents. I’ve known Justin for some 20 years and admire many of his extraordinary qualities. We were friendly colleagues. But, as I’ve said before, I feel he must truly dig deep and try to directly address and resolve many troubling issues. I wish him nothing but the best.

Still, Djokovic, who is a prime leader, had to be asked about his clear implication that the door was still open for Justin to return to the ATP Board (or goodness, to even take over as the new CEO). I tried to ask Novak about this in his press conference Monday, but was not called on. Still, I sensed I would probably have an opportunity after his second round match.

Like Wawrinka, I feel it’s important to stand up for what I believe in. Trust me, it wasn’t easy addressing the No. 1 player in the world, as understandably, he commanded a microphone at his Wimbledon press conference. I was nervous, but I tried my best. Here is our exchange. What do you think?

Bill Simons: Please allow me to say how much I admire you as a tennis champion and a wonderful person off the court.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thank you.

Simons: My question relates to Justin, who I’ve known and admired for two decades. As we all know, he has many wonderful qualities. [I will] try and express myself clearly. I’m wondering whether you’ve read the victim impact comments that were made by the person who he attacked and his wife. If you have read that, how can one possibly consider this man who had this brutal attack in front of children – there were other incidents that have been reported as well – for leadership in our wonderful sport?

DJOKOVIC: Is he proven guilty?

Simons: He said “No contest,” and the judge stated to him, “Because of that, you will be considered guilty. Do you understand, Mr. Gimelstob?” He told her, “Yes.” He also told a number of us that it would all come out and he would prove himself innocent, and he has not done that. The report is devastating. My question as our leader is: have you read it and will you read it?

DJOKOVIC: I will read it. I haven’t read it. I’ve spoken to Justin. He has explained to me that he still is going through the process, the legal process. He’s not done yet on the court. Obviously I know only his side of the story.

I’ve had, as I mentioned before, [a] really good relationship with Justin. I think he is away from our sport at the moment for a reason. I think he needs to take time to deal with this serious matter.

We as sport, players, cannot have this kind of disturbance, so to say, in our sport or in our structure. He understands that.

If he in the end of this whole process is proven guilty, I mean, obviously there is no support from my side for him to be part of the sport.

Simons: In a court of law, he agreed that he would be adjudicated, [and he] was said to be guilty. That is what occurs in California law when you say, “No contest.”

DJOKOVIC: Okay.

Simons: You are accepting your guilt, and in this case to a horrific crime.

DJOKOVIC: Okay. Listen, I will go through the documents. I can speak to you next time.

Simons: I appreciate that.

DJOKOVIC: There is no reason for you to attack me.

Simons: I’m not attacking you at all.

DJOKOVIC: That’s how I feel.

Simons: It’s very emotional. You’re our leader.

DJOKOVIC: Just a second, listen. I understand that. I really do. I understand that. You were expecting me to be responsible for the Council and for the players because I represent them.

Simons: I’m not talking about the council.

DJOKOVIC: What are you talking about? I want to finish this.

Simons: I’m talking about your comment: I haven’t thought about whether Justin should come back and be a part of the Council, of our leadership. That’s what I’m referring to.

DJOKOVIC: You’re referring to the Council leadership. That’s what I was talking about.

Simons: To Justin coming back to being a Council member, yes.

DJOKOVIC: Let’s take things slowly here. That’s what I was referring to. That’s what I was saying. I just don’t feel it is necessary for you to point a finger at me specifically for something that he has or hasn’t done. I told you that I’m going to go back and I’m going to read all the papers, then we can have a discussion after that. That’s all.

There is no reason for you to talk to me in that way because I feel like you’re pointing the guilt at me for some reason for what he has done or for supporting him.

I am telling you I have very good relationship with him, and I always have. I’m not going to lie about that. But if he is guilty about committing a crime, as you said, or whatever has happened that night, that obviously changes things around for his future role in our sport.

But if that is not the case, then I’m just saying, if that is not the case, then he is a huge asset for our sport and our players. He has always been. He’s been representing players very vocally for 10 years. You have mentioned that at the beginning, right?

Simons: I know. He has great skills.

DJOKOVIC: That’s all. That’s all.

Simons: I’m not accusing you of any crime.

DJOKOVIC: I know you’re not accusing me of a crime. I feel like you’re putting me on the spot because of what he has done or that I have not been taking enough action as a leader. That is what you are referring to.

Simons: Because of what you have said. Because you haven’t looked into a very serious situation.

DJOKOVIC: I will.

Simons: Thank you.

DJOKOVIC: Thank you.

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