It’s been over a week since tennis power broker Justin Gimelstob pleaded “no contest” to violently assaulting his ex-wife’s friend, Randall Kaplan, in front of Kaplan’s pregnant wife and child on Halloween night.
The judge said the attack on Kaplan was “violent” and “unprovoked,” and explicitly told Gimelstob that he considered his “no contest” plea an admission of guilt, even though the felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor conviction. Gimelstob was sentenced to three years of probation and 60 days of community service.
In recent days, a few high-profile figures in tennis have spoken out against Gimelstob, including current Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) players Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, as well as coach and commentator Darren Cahill and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) legend Martina Navratilova. But, besides being barred from sitting in the Wimbledon Royal Box this year, he hasn’t received any significant punishments from the sport of tennis. He is still employed by the Tennis Channel; his production company is still under contract with the ATP and the United States Tennis Association (USTA); he is still the manager of former professional tennis player Lindsay Davenport and an unpaid adviser to ATP player John Isner. And most alarmingly, he still holds his role on the ATP Board of Directors. (Editor’s note: On Wednesday morning, Gimelstob announced that he was resigning from the board. Full update below.)
Gimelstob exerts an unseemly amount of power over the ATP and the Tennis Channel, particularly for a person whose career-high singles ranking was No. 63. So, in the wake of his effective guilty plea, it’s time for the WTA to do what other leading organizations in the sport won’t do, and ban Gimelstob from the grounds of its tournaments — which would prevent him from attending or working any joint ATP/WTA event, such as the upcoming elite clay-court tournaments in Madrid and Rome.
To some, this might sound like an extreme remedy. But Gimelstob’s crime didn’t occur in a vacuum; rather, he has a well-documented history of abusive and misogynistic behavior. According to one person who works in tennis and spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, people who work in the sport are terrified about the prospect of working in close quarters with Gimelstob right now.
“I’ve received many text messages from men and women in the sport expressing their shock and disappointment in how the sport’s governing bodies and the players have, aside from the All England Club, stayed silent,” the source said.
The source continued: “Where are the alarm bells? Where is the concern for the greater working tennis community who work long hours for little pay, in complete anonymity for the good of this sport? A vast majority of the messages I’ve received expressing their anger have come from women. Now that we know just how impulsively violent he can be, of course safety is a concern. And whether it’s Tennis Channel employees, ATP employees, or anyone else that is on-site at events, it’s a legitimate concern. But no one is standing up for us.”
The WTA did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
Let’s be clear: It should not have come to this. The ATP Board or the ATP itself should have parted ways with Gimelstob months ago. Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon should be distancing the organization from Gimelstob; instead, he still features Gimelstob in the header photo on his Twitter profile.
It’s these sorts of deep-seated connections within elite circles that seem to have blinded everyone to Gimelstob’s history of anti-social behavior. As his continued prominence within the sport’s organizational infrastructure continues to cast a pall, the WTA should take the opportunity to lead.
After all, Gimelstob has an extensive history of sexist and homophobic comments. Most infamously, in a 2008 interview, he referred to multiple women on the WTA Tour as “sexpots,” and went on an expletive-filled rant directed at former WTA player Anna Kournikova, against whom he was about to compete in the mixed-gender competition, World Team Tennis. “She’s a bitch,” he said. “Hate’s a very strong word. I just despise her to the maximum level just below hate.”
He issued an apology at the time, but suffered no real consequences from the tennis establishment. Instead, he continued to rise up its ranks in broadcasting, production, and management, amassing power and priding himself on being an unrepentant bully at every turn.
Meanwhile, Gimelstob and his ex-wife, Cary Gimelstob, have been in a very contentious divorce for the past four years. According to the New York Times, he’s spent over $4 million on related legal fees. The Telegraph reported that he has been involved in many violent incidents during this time period. In late 2016, he attacked another one of his ex-wife’s friends at a restaurant, leaving him with a cut lip. In 2018, he had to be restrained from choking an opponent at a paddle tennis tournament in Los Angeles.
His ex-wife also filed a restraining order against Gimelstob on February 2016, which featured a string of harrowing allegations.
“Justin physically assaulted me twice in front of our son… Justin also informed me that he had placed a video recording device in my bedroom and had recordings of me having sex with another man and intended to show them to [their son],” Cary Gimelstob said on the domestic restraining order filed the weekend of December 5 to 7, 2015. “Justin also broke into the house I was living in and threatened to continue breaking into the house I was living in in the future.”
Gimelstob has denied ever striking Cary, and filed a physical restraining order of his own against her, alleging she physically abused him.
The details of Gimelstob’s attack on Kaplan last Halloween are particularly brutal. Dressed in a Top Gun uniform, Gimelstob attacked Kaplan from behind and hit him 50 times while screaming, “I’m going to fucking kill you.” In devastating victim impact statements, Kaplan’s wife says that the trauma from witnessing the assault led her to miscarry.
Gimelstob has hardly aided his own cause. His misbehavior during the court hearings was such that the judge had to warn him that he would revoke the misdemeanor deal if Gimelstob made any public statements denying his guilt. With cries for his ouster growing louder over the past week, Gimelstob has filed a civil suit against Kaplan, and his attorney has sent a letter to the ATP Board and player’s council emphasizing that Kaplans’ statements weren’t made under oath or subject to cross-examination. All this despite the fact that it was Gimelstob’s decision to take the plea deal and avoid a trial. This is a man with undeniable rage issues who isn’t showing a modicum of remorse.
The pressure against Gimelstob is mounting. Over the past week, a few candidates have come forward to run for Gimelstob’s seat on the ATP Board, including prominent coach and commentator Brad Gilbert. The vote will be held on May 14. But his ouster is hardly a given, particularly since Gimelstob has such a close connection with may members of the 10-person player’s council that will be holding the vote, including Isner.
Tennis is an incredibly insular community with a tangled web of conflicts of interest. It’s a sport where people travel together, and where media members and players and coaches and administration officials work in close quarters for ridiculously long hours. That’s why the notable members of the tennis community who have spoken out against Gimelstob can be counted on one hand. The silence from the majority of the stakeholders in tennis has left those who work in the sport uneasy about their future.
“[A]fter reading that victim statement, why shouldn’t we be scared? And that’s just the immediate physical danger,” the source within tennis told ThinkProgress.
“Let’s be clear about what Justin has on everyone: He owns a production company, that employs good, hard working men and women, that produces the ATP magazine show. He is a highly influential presence at Tennis Channel and can skew coverage to whomever he chooses. He runs or has run, exhibition events, where he can choose which players to invite to play and therefore, which players to offer large appearance fees for. He is a member of the ATP Board, and by all player accounts, has been able to secure increased prize money for the players. As a player, he clearly made connections. This sport barters on loyalty, and that loyalty, which may or may not have been earned, has bought silence from the biggest names in the sport.”
It’s time for someone, anyone who actually has the power to keep Gimelstob away from the sport, to take a stand. A ban from the WTA would hardly be a cure-all, of course. He could still work on the grounds of any ATP-only event, and he would still be able to do commentary for the Tennis Channel that wasn’t onsite at WTA events. But it would be a significant start, and a sign to those who play for, work for, and root for the Tour that violence will not be tolerated, and that safety comes first.
Everyone else has failed. It’s time for the WTA to speak up and save tennis.
UPDATE (5/1/19): On Wednesday morning, the New York Times reported that Gimelstob was resigning from the ATP Board of Directors, effective immediately.
“I’m stepping down because my job is to work on the sport’s behalf and the players’ behalf, and in my situation I’ve become too much of a distraction and a liability,” Gimelstob said. “I take responsibility for that, and I take responsibility for the mistakes I made Halloween night.”