The New York Times publishing public-relations material serving the interests of Justin Gimelstob—a powerful figure in tennis whose conduct has over the years ranged from overtly misogynistic to violent and deranged, and who most recently made news by pleading no contest to charges that he hit a man in the head dozens of times in front of that man’s wife and 2-year-old child—would in any circumstances be embarrassing. The Times allowing a person who is paid by the same company that pays Gimelstob to write this public-relations material, and to do so without so much as a perfunctory disclosure, is even more embarrassing. This happened! It is the damndest thing.
This all started on Monday, when Gimelstob—a coach, Tennis Channel commentator, and ATP board member, among other things—pleaded no contest to a battery charge that stemmed from him beating his ex-wife’s friend to a pulp in front of the man’s wife and child on Halloween of last year. It’s still unclear how this will affect Gimelstob’s future in any of his various roles, but last night, the Times obligingly assisted his efforts to move forward by publishing a story under the headline “Justin Gimelstob’s Criminal Case Is Settled. Now He Awaits a Verdict From His Tennis Peers.” It opens with a fawning representation of Gimelstob and his habit of, uh, not sleeping:
Justin Gimelstob rarely sleeps more than a couple of hours at a time. His mind never shuts off, constantly churning like a blender trying to crush ice. It often prompts him to rise at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning to unburden his thoughts in extended emails and text messages.
“I view my lack of sleep as an opportunity to get more work done, since the day never seems to be enough,” Gimelstob wrote recently in a 3:30 a.m. text message from his home in Brentwood, Calif., where his 5-year-old son, Brandon, was sleeping. “Plus, it’s quiet. I find it allows me to filter out the noise and distractions.”
A variety of things can cause someone to only sleep for a few hours at a time; most of the ones that make your brain resemble an ice blender are illegal. The story, having made its possibly inadvertent insinuation about just what Gimelstob gets up to, moves seamlessly on to portraying a man who just pleaded no contest to charges that he punched a man in the head 50 times while screaming “I’m going to fucking kill you” as a victim, someone who was forced into his violent conduct by someone else’s actions:
Gimelstob, 42, did not deny that the altercation had taken place or that Kaplan, an acquaintance, had taken the brunt of the hits. But he maintained that this was not the first time the two had scuffled and that he did not attack Kaplan from behind as he was accused of doing. Rather, he said, he reacted when Kaplan made derogatory remarks about Gimelstob’s father less than 48 hours after his funeral. Kaplan has denied making such comments.
It then gives Gimelstob—who has a long history of violent and erratic behavior and who is accused of assaulting his ex-wife and of hiding a camera in her bedroom to record her having sex so he could show it to their son—ample room to explain his actions and protect his image:
“I’m not saying that I am perfect or that I shouldn’t have handled that night differently,” Gimelstob said in an interview last month. “I should have. I would give anything to undo it. I’d give every dollar that I have to take that five minutes back. But I didn’t do what he said, and my whole life and my whole career and my relationship with my son should not be ended because of it.”
Let’s pause here to consider whether any of the alleged victims of Gimelstob’s alleged conduct are represented here (they aren’t), but also to take a look at who wrote this story. Cindy Shmerler is a freelancer whose LinkedIn page lists her as a commentator for Tennis Channel from 2005 to the present. When asked about her work history and potential conflicts of interest here, real or perceived, she read a statement (which she later sent via email) aloud to Deadspin, asserting that her online resume is not accurate:
My linked profile (created by my daughter, I might add) is old and outdated. I am NOT a commentator for Tennis Channel. I did two broadcasts for them more than 10 years ago and have been interviewed by them for their Best-Of shows on several occasions. I have not been paid a dime for any of those appearances. There was absolutely no reason for me, or for the NYT, to include a disclosure indicating that I have been on their air, in the same way that being interviewed by NBC news does not mean that you work for the network.
Shmerler is also a contributor to Tennis.com, which was bought by Sinclair in March 2017 and combined with Tennis Channel, where Gimelstob is a commentator. Since then, Shmerler has written 12 stories for Tennis.com, including three in December 2018. She does not see any issue here, either:
Tennis magazine/tennis.com was acquired by Tennis Channel in the last year and, while I have been a contributing editor there for more than 25 years, I have written very little for them over the last few years (and nothing about Gimelstob or Tennis Channel!)
It’s true that Shmerler has not written about Gimelstob for Tennis.com since the acquisition, but that’s not the point: At the very least, it would seem that Times readers should know that a story covering Gimelstob’s future at Tennis Channel is being written by someone who cashes checks from the same company. It would be very easy and very normal for a story to include a line like: “Shmerler previously appeared on Tennis Channel broadcasts and also contributes to Tennis.com, which is aligned with Tennis Channel.”
Such a disclosure laying out the reporter’s position—even if the conflict of interest is, as Shmerler says, only a matter of perception—would seem especially relevant given that Shmerler elicited and the Times ran the most glowing possible quotes from Ken Solomon, president of Tennis Channel, with which she has a business relationship, about Gimelstob, a man who reportedly had to be restrained at a 2017 paddle tennis tournament after he tried to choke an opponent:
“Because of his position in the game, Justin brings a level of depth of analysis, of precision, of firsthand immediate relevance as to what’s going on in the game today,” Tennis Channel’s chief executive, Ken Solomon, said. “He is incredibly bright, incredibly insightful and obsessive about his homework.”
Shmerler, in her statement, said that she has no relationship with Gimelstob or Solomon beyond that of a journalist interviewing her subjects, and further described her various merits:
In conclusion, I have been an award-winning tennis journalist for more than 40 years and have never had my ethics called into question. I am a fair and honest reporter—not an opinion-based columnist—and I always strive to present all sides of a story, whether in my role as a freelance writer for the New York Times or for any other publication for which I write. I think anyone you ask would corroborate that.
All of this granted, Tennis Channel’s chief executive being given space by someone with longstanding and ongoing ties to his company to say kind things in the New York Times about someone he pays seems like a nice arrangement for everyone involved. Why readers wouldn’t be clued in here is an open question that Times sports editor Randy Archibold* declined to answer in a statement saying the newspaper stood by the story:
We discussed Cindy’s work outside The Times, including her unpaid appearances on the Tennis Channel as a longstanding freelance tennis journalist, before she took on the assignment (as far as we can tell, Cindy has not written about him for tennis.com since it was bought by the Tennis Channel.) We were confident she had no personal or business relationship with Gimelstob.
This set of circumstances makes sense in a certain way, considering the immense influence Gimelstob still has in the tennis world. As I reported yesterday, a Tennis Channel source describes Solomon and Gimelstob as having a “very close relationship,” and Solomon’s Twitter header image is literally a picture of Gimelstob on a Tennis Channel set; this illuminating video from his wedding to his now-estranged wife features tennis bigwigs like ex-player Jim Courier, broadcaster John Lloyd, former ATP president Adam Helfant, and ex-player Mary Jo Fernandez all slobbering over him:
Of course Gimelstob would enjoy the benefit of having an access merchant and “award-winning journalist” (the two are definitely not mutually exclusive) laundering his reputation in the Times’s pages at the point when he’s most in need of such help. It’s good to be connected.
While the Times story is busy soaping up Gimelstob’s scrotum—“He said that he had been in therapy since an hour after his father died of a heart arrhythmia on Oct. 26 and that it was helping him learn to accept his flaws and take responsibility for his actions”—it, perhaps accidentally, makes one revealing point: Some tennis players support Gimelstob because he is perceived as being able to get them more money from prize tournaments. This is interesting and would bear further examination. Shmerler, however, spoke to only two players for the story, both of whom are on the Players Council that will vote on Gimelstob’s ATP board election next month and both of whom, perhaps unsurprisingly, had nice things to say about Gimelstob. One of them was John Isner, who Gimelstob used to coach and whom he now serves as an unpaid advisor:
“He’s going through a tough time on a lot of fronts,” Isner said. “But he’s a very loyal guy, and he goes up against the tournament representatives and goes to bat for us players. He’s stubborn and tenacious. That’s the reason he’s been in the position he’s been in for quite some time.”
Isner will, along with nine other pros on the Players Council, vote next month to decide if Gimelstob will get to keep his seat on the ATP board. Gimelstob is running unopposed.
As the Times was publishing redemption porn for a violent freak, The Telegraph reported that a judge had to warn Gimelstob that he is not allowed to deny the Halloween attack or he could be hauled back into court. From the report:
In a further sign of lack of remorse, as he entered the courtroom, Gimelstob handed this Telegraph Sport reporter some printed pictures from Madison Kaplan’s Instagram account, saying the photographs of the couple holidaying and at a birthday party since Hallowe’en showed that the attack had little affect on them.
This doesn’t sound like the action of a man who felt sorry in any way for what a judge called a “violent and unprovoked” attack, but the Times was more concerned with spiffing up Gimelstob’s reputation. The story ended like this:
What if he learns that he has become more of a liability to tennis than an asset?
“It would fall under the bucket of consequences and being a man and taking responsibility for it,” Gimelstob said. “I want the same for the council, for the greater good. But I wouldn’t be the first person who’s had a major issue, extenuating circumstances and ascended to tremendous positions of responsibility, power and leadership. I could turn it around, and I think that would be one of my greatest, most proud accomplishments.”
A more apt question to ask would be this: What if tennis, and the sports world more broadly, stopped giving third and fourth and fifth chances to violent men who can’t even be bothered to convincingly pretend they’re sorry? Or, maybe: What if the New York Times respected their readers enough to offer a conflict-of-interest disclosure when they run a puff piece for one such violent man? Or perhaps: What might the Times uncover if it put its unmatched resources to work investigating Gimelstob’s past conduct and the implications of the fact that his father, Barry Gimelstob, was arrested in 1995 for chasing his own wife with scissors, holding a butcher knife to her throat, and threatening to kill her? Or even: What would Gimelstob’s alleged victims say about his claims of self-improvement?
These are the questions worth asking; maybe the Times will get around to them next time.
Correction (1:30 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this post misspelled the New York Times sports editor’s name. It is Randy Archibold, not Archibald.