When a well-known athlete makes a startling public admission these days, it frequently involves drug use, cheating, or some other lapse of responsibility for personal gain.
But a recent public admission from former tennis great Andrea Jaeger was startling for very different reasons. Jaeger said she purposely allowed Martina Navratilova to beat her in the 1983 Wimbledon final. And her rationale for doing so involved an ethical decision virtually unheard of in the competitive arena of pro sports.
“I went on the court in complete peace,” said Jaeger, “knowing that giving the match away was the right thing to do.”
Jaeger was 18 at the time, and unbeknownst to many people, she harbored a strong dislike for the ruthlessness of pro tennis. She also had a deep devotion to God and an overwhelming desire to help kids in need. She prayed secretly and played competitively. “I really didn’t want to be world number one,” she said, “but who do you have that conversation with when you’re young and number two in the world? It’s not something people want to hear.”
The day before the Wimbledon match, Jaeger had a fight with her father/manager over—among other things--a bag of potato chips she ate. She ran to the apartment next door to call a taxi to escape the paternal wrath. The apartment was occupied by Navratilova, whose trainer let the distraught Jaeger in. Navratilova looked at Jaeger, who was visibly upset, then turned away without saying a word or offering help.
The indifference hurt Jaeger. But she also believed she had unfairly jeopardized Navratilova’s concentration in preparation for the match. “I had to make it right,” Jaeger said, not wanting her off-court actions to trigger an opponent’s loss.
So Jaeger decided that intentionally losing the match to Navratilova was the right thing to do. “During the match, I missed balls on purpose,” Jaeger said. “I hit right to Martina.” Winning at Wimbledon, she said, “meant more to Martina anyway.”
Two years later, she suffered a career-ending shoulder injury.
Today, Andrea Jaeger is no longer a tennis player. She is Sister Andrea, a Dominican nun in the Episcopal Church. Her days are dedicated to helping kids suffering from cancer, neglect, and poverty through the Little Star Foundation, a charity she founded with her tennis winnings.
“I’ve always been called to help those in need,” she said. “It’s just been in my soul since I was a child. I think that’s why I struggled so much on the tennis circuit, because you have to be selfish to succeed in an individual sport.”
Tell us what you think: Is there a place for extreme ethics in the extreme world of pro sports? Is deliberately losing the right thing to do? Instead of throwing the match, do you think Andrea Jaeger should have dropped out and told the world why?