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Tennis great Pam Shriver reveals she had 'inappropriate' relationship with 'much older' coach as a teenager

SportTennis great Pam Shriver reveals she had 'inappropriate' relationship with 'much older' coach as a teenager


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International Tennis Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Pam Shriver on Wednesday revealed she was in an “inappropriate and damaging relationship” with her “much older” coach that began when she was 17, and he was 50.

Shriver talked about her relationship with coach Don Candy and the “painful and emotional journey” she underwent, in a first-person account published by the Daily Telegraph.

Shriver said she was guided by Candy, who served as her coach and chaperone when she started playing on the tour in 1978 at the age of 15. Under Candy, she reached the U.S. Open final as a 16-year-old amateur, eventually losing in straight sets to Chris Evert. But in 1979, in the middle of a tennis rough patch with no victories in five months, she told Candy that she was “falling in love,” with him — despite their 33-year age gap. 

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Candy died in 2020 at the age of 91. 

NSW Women's Tennis Open at White City Semifinals.Pam Shriver (R) and her coach Don Candy (L) hoping for rain to hold off till after her match. December 5, 1980. 

NSW Women’s Tennis Open at White City Semifinals.Pam Shriver (R) and her coach Don Candy (L) hoping for rain to hold off till after her match. December 5, 1980. 
(Photo by Antonin Cermak/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

“I still have conflicted feelings about Don. Yes, he and I became involved in a long and inappropriate affair. Yes, he was cheating on his wife. But there was a lot about him that was honest and authentic. And I loved him,” Shriver wrote. “Even so, he was the grown-up here. He should have been the trustworthy adult. In a different world, he would have found a way to keep things professional. Only after therapy did I start to feel a little less responsible. Now, at last, I’ve come to realise that what happened is on him.”

Over the next five years, Shriver said “everything got blurry, when lines were crossed,” as the relationship started to get physical. She said they had intercourse when she was 20. 

“We did share rooms. We did virtually everything else that two people who are attracted to each other can do,” Shriver said.

Shriver admitted that Candy never abused her sexually, though she noted there was emotional abuse.

“I felt so many horrendous emotions and I felt so alone,” she wrote. “The worst would be my anger and jealousy when his wife came to tournaments. In fact, Elaine was lovely. I don’t think she ever knew what was going on. If she did, she kept it to herself. But every time she showed up, we had to completely flip the way we were coexisting.”

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She described the relationship with Candy as a “traumatic experience,” that impacted her ability to form “normal” relationships after the time they spent together. 

American tennis player Pam Shriver at the Virginia Slims of Newport Tennis Tournament, Newport, Rhode Island, July 1987.

American tennis player Pam Shriver at the Virginia Slims of Newport Tennis Tournament, Newport, Rhode Island, July 1987.
(Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

“Our affair shaped my whole experience of romantic life. It stunted my ability to form normal relationships and set certain patterns which would recur: my ongoing attraction to older men and my difficulties in understanding how to maintain healthy boundaries,” she added. 

Shriver, who won 21 Grand Slam doubles titles over the course of her prolific tennis career, said she ended the relationship with Candy and started to look at other coaches after the 1984 season at the age of 22.

“I actually kept using Don as a coaching consultant, because he was so insightful about my game. But neither he nor I ever tried to rekindle anything – a mercy for which I’ll give credit to both sides,” she wrote. 

Shriver said she decided to speak out publicly this week to shed light on abusive coaching relationships in tennis, which she argues still “goes on – a lot.”

“I believe abusive coaching relationships are alarmingly common in sport as a whole. My particular expertise, though, is in tennis, where I have witnessed dozens of instances in my four-and-a-bit decades as a player and commentator. Every time I hear about a player who is dating their coach, or I see a male physio working on a female body in the gym, it sets my alarm bells ringing,” Shriver wrote. 

Pam Shriver attends day 5 of the 2016 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City.

Pam Shriver attends day 5 of the 2016 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City.
(Photo by Jean Catuffe/GC Images)

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“This is a widespread problem and we need a broad-spectrum alliance if we’re going to address it. One of the most crucial organisations is going to be the International Tennis Federation, because they organise the junior events. But everyone must come together – the WTA, the ATP and the four grand slams – to improve tennis’ safeguarding practices,” she added. “My sensitivity to these issues is only growing as my three children move into their late teens. I’d love to protect them and their contemporaries from the trauma of toxic relationships. And thus from needing the sort of therapy I went through last year.”

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