[cross-posted from Power Forward, my blog on sports and culture]
My latest at The Atlantic is about all the press that Jimmy Connors has gotten in the last week or so after word came out that he tells Chris Evert’s abortion story from 1974 in his new biography, a story he did NOT have permission to tell.
I talk about ethical storysharing with abortion: who can tell someone else’s abortion story and when.
Jimmy Connors Shouldn’t Be Talking About Chris Evert’s Abortion (it’s a long piece so this is just a small sliver of it):
For Exhale Pro-Voice, the entire reason for practicing “ethical storysharing” when it comes to telling another’s abortion story is to “make sure that the person [who had the abortion is in] the center of the storytelling process and ensures that her rights, needs, and leadership are supported and respected throughout the process.” Sherman says that anyone who tells someone else’s abortion story as Connors has done can make the person who had the abortion “feel violated and adds to the shame that folks who have had abortions may already feeling.” Beyond that, it can have real-life consequences. “When someone shares your experience for you,” Sherman says, “especially without your permission, they put you and your story out into the world in a way that could have grave consequences—family shaming, intimate partner violence, mental health stress, loss of a job, etc.”
It is Evert who will face the heat for Connors’s decision, especially the way that he told it. By saying that he was willing accept responsibility and that she excluded him from helping her make the decision, it implies that Evert was not responsible in her choice and that she is the only party that should face scrutiny for what happened. In the interviews since she released her statement condemning Connors’ decision to tell her story without her permission, he has modified the way he tells the story to make it more about them as a couple. But it is his words on the page that will be preserved for posterity and that will follow Evert around in the future.
The media’s attention to Evert’s abortion story may be a boost for sales of his biography. It has certainly made the release of the book front-page news outside of just the tennis community, though Connors hasn’t even had much of a presence there in the last few years. Connors has not coached a high-profile athlete since his relationship with Andy Roddick ended in 2008 and he has no regular commentating job (while he was hired by the Tennis Channel in 2009, he is no longer listed on their site listing on-screen talent). He wrote the book last year while recovering from two hip replacement surgeries.
Evert is regularly on TV, though. ESPN owns the rights to all four of the tennis grand slam championships and so for eight weeks of the year Evert appears on the screens of U.S. tennis fans’ TVs as an ESPN commentator. And she will be back in public soon. The French Open begins in two weeks and only two weeks after it ends, Wimbledon begins.