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August 31, 2009

Andre Agassi


TIM CURRY: We'll open the floor for questions for Andre Agassi.

Q. Can you describe the scene and graduation, there's a bridge, a room nobody can go in.
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, it took place inside our gym that we did really sort of like better than a prom, and very celebratory. And then after we handed the diplomas, we didn't officially do the tassels till all the kids got up on the bridge, walked a cross one by one, called their name, they took the flag of where it is they're going to school, sort of the school flag, and they pasted it against the Plexiglas of the bridge to sort of be embodied there.
It was quite an emotional moment. I was on the other side kind of receiving each one as they came across, just looking at their faces. Pretty incredible.

Q. You dropped out of the Braden Academy and now have formed the Agassi Academy. It's fair to say respect wasn't your strong suit when you were a kid. You felt uncertainty at Bollettieri's, a certain rage, I think it's fair to say. Now you seem to have so much calm and insight. What do you think the young Andre Agassi would think of Agassi today, not only of all your titles, but Agassi the man?
ANDRE AGASSI: I think he'd be prouder than the reverse, you know (laughter.) When I look back, I'm not terribly thrilled at some of my decisions or filters or abilities to see anything in real context or understanding.
But it's been a continual growth. I mean, you know, I think there's a tendency with kids to treat 'em at different stages, especially when you grow up in the public eye, as if they're a finished product. This is who you are, this is what you are, when, in fact, you're constantly in process.
It's what life is. It's what the journey requires. It's what your evolution is, regardless of whether you like any particular intersection that you're in, or you understand the intersection you're in. There were a lot of moments I didn't understand, I was confused by, scared by. A lot of times I wanted to hide from facing it.
But I'm still in process. So don't believe what you're seeing here either, because unless I continually ask the most from myself, you know, it's a way of life. It's a choice of life.

Q. Will there be more schools?
ANDRE AGASSI: If you can help me raise the money.
You know, there's a number of ways to scale this. I don't think replication is necessarily an efficient way to scale. I think ultimately what we're going to find is legislative change that can trickle and affect, you know, a lot of children across America. You know, our standards are pretty low right now. Even in our good schools we're not even thinking globally as how we compare to the rest of the world.
My hope is in a state that's 50th in the United States, kids we put to college, that we can somehow as a motto with my school -- and I've testified in our state legislation on a couple occasions and had success with passing certain legislation that has affected my school and charter schools.
There is legislation that can be effected to affect public schools. We're a state of three million people; two million live in Vegas. We've had success doing that. If we can move our state -- the good news with being last in the country, a little help can go a long ways.
That's what hopefully the next step is.

Q. Can you tell us the one moment in your past when you decided this was the cause you wanted to put your efforts behind? What was it that convinced you?
ANDRE AGASSI: That was a process. I mean, I started with a number of different children's needs. I was clothing about six thousand children a year through Assistance League, Boys and Girls Clubs, after school programs, Child Haven, a shelter for abused kids. I was just chasing my tail.
You sort of get excited and motivated at first. You feel like you're making a difference, and then the next group of kids come through and then those kids get lost through the cracks. The only way to create systemic change is to educate, to give the tools to the kid themselves.
I'm not educating because I was educated. It was quite the contrary. Not only did I leave Braden Academy in the ninth grade, but eighth grade was the best three years of my life (laughter.)
So when I saw a 20/20 piece where they were showing Michael Feinberg, who is with the KIPP Program, I was really taken by charter schools. I thought the model itself made more sense. We can hold students accountable, teachers accountable, parents accountable. We can have longer school days, longer school years, time on tests, no shortcuts.
It all sort of connected with everything I've learned on a tennis court. Then I just set about trying to figure out how to do it, and made a lot of mistakes and continually learned from it. But we're getting better at the money we need to fund. In other words, we're starting to get to a reasonable level of funding that's scaleable. We're starting to get results that every parent would want for their child, and things are happening.

Q. If you were one of those high school graduates right now and going off to college, what do you think you'd be studying? Would you send your own children to your school?
ANDRE AGASSI: What I'd be studying is I don't know. I think one of the things about tennis and sort of it being determined for me for most of my life was that the options and the sea of opportunities that were out there, I'll never know what those could have been had I grown up differently, you know. But I don't know.
The second answer is, I would not send my kids to my school, because I'd be taking the place of two children that really need that. I can afford something for my kids. But, you know, it's just too important to me that this school reaches those children, the ones that society has written off or are quickest to write off or that are just being assumed to not have a chance.
Those children are the ones we got to do. We got to raise this from the floor up. There's not going to be any trickle down that works with these problems.

Q. Are you thinking about continuing your own education?
ANDRE AGASSI: I'm learning every day. Every day.

Q. In terms of formal education.
ANDRE AGASSI: In terms of formal, no. You know, I just haven't really considered it with all my interests and the time spent. I have a beautiful chunk of my life that's designed for my family, and I don't stop outside those priorities. I just keep going. Can't help myself.

Q. How does it feel to be back at the Open?
ANDRE AGASSI: It feels amazing. It feels great pulling up to the stadium, not caring how you feel (smiling.) That's probably the best part about it. I can't tell you how many times I've come here a little bit tired, a little bit sore, a little bit injured, a little bit distracted. There's nowhere to hide out there. So I've lived and died on this court many time, and taken a lot of people with me.

Q. How does it feel to be here and be honored for something other than tennis?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, what feels great, and appropriately right about tonight, is that, you know, I've shared all my life with New York fans, for the most part. I mean, 21 years. They not only helped me to take a harder look at myself; they helped me grow up. They watched me and helped me.
So at this juncture, you know, I'm ending one sort of time chapter and I'm starting another, and I'm at the beginning of it. So I can leave it to New York to scrutinize. I can leave it to New York to nurture. I can embrace everything I experienced and learned from them as I take on these challenges.

Q. Do you remember lying in the parking lot after Baghdatis and your back was so bad? Did you know then it was all over?
ANDRE AGASSI: Yeah, I did. I did. I didn't know how I was going to get off the parking lot floor and get to the car, let alone come back and play.
But I had to walk through that door.

Q. Obviously any charitable effort is admirable. Do you think too many players have foundations that are unfocused? Are you in a position where you can give advice about how to better direct?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I can certainly talk about what I've learned. I mean, I think having a foundation is like choosing to have a child: you better be ready to care about it, you know. It's going to take on a whole life of its own. And I think it can be not the best decision to start your own foundation. I think there's a lot of pitfalls. I think careers are short.
It's one of the reasons why I started Athletes For Hope, because it's an organization that can help filter all those pitfalls, that can help connect athletes with corporations, with causes, and values get synergized.
That's an efficient way to do it. That's one of the motivations I had in starting Athletes For Hope with Lance and Muhammad Ali and Mia. We were in the first meeting rooms when we were talking about how we were going to do that.
But I do think if you do have a foundation, you need to make sure you're very focused. It's much better. That's one of the mistakes I made. I started in the third, fourth, fifth grade, then I started to add a grade, started to panic, had them in third grade. Had we had them in kindergarten, we wouldn't be dealing with all these issues.
So I quickly went back and put in K1-2. I should have taken a deep breath and sat outside a delivery room and taken the baby. I should have put him in education with the mother, and then I should have started a preK and then added a grade every year.
You know, you'd be surprised how much momentum you build if you allow every step to build on each other. I kind of ran out there with enthusiasm and had to reel back a lot of things. I think a lot of people can fall into that trap. I think it's a testament to the goodness of the human spirit, but it also can be a liability.

Q. Ten years after yourself, Roger finally managed to have a career Grand Slam and won Wimbledon and Roland Garros back to back. What are your thoughts?
ANDRE AGASSI: It was just a pleasure to watch. It would have been a crime had he not ever won in Paris. He's been the second best clay courter for five years running. He should have won four or five French Opens, if it wasn't for one sort of freakish kid from Mallorca.
You know, it took that. He would have won possibly two Grand Slams, all four in the same year, two years in a row. What he's done in separating himself from the game should be recognized. And the problem is, is it wasn't being recognized, if, A, he didn't win Paris. I thought once he did the discussion's over with. Or, two, what started to become even more frustrating as I looked at Roger's career for Roger is him having to win the 15th to somehow conclude.
Because, you know, there's been so many examples of historians who will tell you - Bud, you've seen for it years - there are champions that skipped Grand Slams because they wanted to win the one that they didn't win. Borg quit at 26 with 11 Grand Slams and played the Australian Open only one time. Nobody ever considered Emerson better than Laver, even though Laver had less slams than Emerson. It was never a barometer for a player's career.
So for him just to remove that as some sort of possible thorn I think is right.

Q. Why aren't there more great American tennis players like yourself right now? It seems a little slim at the very, very top.
ANDRE AGASSI: Yeah, it does. You know, it's probably easier to expose a problem as opposed to solve it. I'm not a big fan of saying, Here's a problem. I don't have an answer. But we have 300 million people in this country. We got to get the racquet in more kids' hands. We have to create a grass-roots level that connects.
Our sport has a great statistic. When they start playing, unlike soccer where a lot of kid play and then at eight, ten, twelve years old they drop off. Baseball, a lot of kids play little league, and then eight, ten, twelve, they drop off.
Tennis, kids that start at a young age continue playing. That's a great thing. We need to create the access, that connection.

Q. Tennis was chosen for you by your dad. How gratifying is it that what you're doing now is the choice you made and what you're funneling your energy into?
ANDRE AGASSI: That was everything for me. I think when you saw my rise and fall before my rise back, I think it was a function of tennis never being something I chose. It taught me some real harsh lessons, and I live with my emotions out there. I never hid how I felt.
Some days it was pretty scary how much anger I could feel, how much fear I could feel, how much, you know, how tennis could impact me. Other days, I was as inspired as ever.
But I couldn't be inspired on a continual level until I made the choice for myself. That's what I did when I was 27 years, ranked 147, sitting in a hotel in Stuttgart with Brad when I lost to Todd Martin 2-3 after taking a wild card. He looked at me and said, It's really simple. We're not leaving this room until you decide what you're going to do. Are we going to start over? I we gonna do this, because you're too good. You're too good of a person. I'm not going to let you do this.
I gave him a big hug and I said, I'm going to choose this. I looked out at the streets. I saw the lights of all the cars in Germany. I know every car I saw out there was going somewhere they possibly didn't want to go. They were doing something they possibly didn't want to do.
So it's not till you choose it for yourself that it's really going to resonate. And I did. It was a long road. I didn't know where it was going to lead me. More importantly, I didn't really care where it was going to lead me.
TIM CURRY: Thank you, Andre.

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