Justin Gimelstob—the former tennis player and current coach, Tennis Channel commentator, ATP board member, and owner of a television production company who infamously weathered a shitstorm of his own making back in 2008 for being a sexist dick—is one of the most powerful people in tennis. For years, this power has insulated him from allegations of assault, erratic behavior, and general creepiness that go well beyond his 2008 comments. It’s at least possible that that insulation has finally worn thin; it also may not have. Becoming an outcast in tennis evidently takes a lot of work, perhaps even more than Gimelstob has put in.
On Monday, Gimelstob pleaded no contest to a battery charge that stemmed from a brutal attack against one of his estranged ex-wife’s friends on Halloween of last year. By pleading no contest, Gimelstob, 42, did not deny savagely beating a man named Randall Kaplan in front of Kaplan’s wife, Madison, who videotaped part of the attack, and their 2-year-old daughter, but he didn’t have to admit guilt either. Gimelstob initially pleaded not guilty to the felony charge in December, which could have resulted in prison time. With the no contest plea, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder Kalra reduced the charge to a misdemeanor and sentenced Gimelstob to three years’ probation and 60 days of community labor.
As part of yesterday’s hearing and sentencing, both Randall and Madison Kaplan entered victim impact statements into the public record. Randall wrote that he feared for his life during the three-minute attack, in which he was punched in the head more than 50 times, leaving him swollen and bruised. He said Gimelstob screamed, “I’m going to fucking kill you.” Kaplan said the attack did lasting damage to him and his family, and also pointed out that Gimelstob had repeatedly refused to take responsibility for the incident:
“For more than five months - until today - Mr Gimelstob’s blunt and very public refusals to accept responsibility for his actions was as alarming as they [were] illuminating about his state of mind - in fact they have been shocking, appalling, and pathological.”
The full victim impact statement also includes an accounting of Gimelstob’s alleged violent and erratic behavior, which has resulted in several restraining orders against him. It’s embedded below and worth reading in full:
Madison Kaplan also wrote about the attack and the ensuing trauma, including her miscarriage.
“Thankfully my husband survived, but our unborn child did not,” she told the court, reading from her victim impact statement.
“My doctors said everything had looked perfect with the pregnancy before the attack. The only reason they could see causing the miscarriage was the stress from the attack. Justin might not have gotten his wish in killing Randy, but he did kill a tiny innocent little baby girl.”
Her full impact statement is embedded below and is also worth reading in full:
Despite these victim impact statements, though, which are wrenching; the no contest plea, which is hardly exculpatory; and Gimelstob’s history of erratic behavior, which includes allegedly assaulting his ex-wife, allegedly breaking into her home, and allegedly hiding cameras in her bedroom to catch her having sex with another man so he could show it to their son, he hasn’t had to deal with any fallout in his career. Though Lleyton Hewitt called for the ATP to take action against Gimelstob, he hasn’t been removed from the board of tennis’s governing body. He hasn’t been disavowed by the player he coaches, John Isner, who, in fact, stood resolutely by him in December, and he’s up for re-election to the the ATP board next month—an election in which Isner is, as a member of the Players Council, one of 10 players who gets to vote. Further, Gimelstob’s production company, Without Limits, produces the ATP World Tour Uncovered show as well as branded content for the ATP and the USTA, and is chugging along just fine.
The closest thing to a professional consequence Gimelstob has faced is that Tennis Channel, from which he took a leave of absence in November, may possibly be hedging their bets on him. In a statement to Deadspin today, a Tennis Channel spokesman said:
“We are sure that Justin is pleased that this matter has been resolved. Since he took his leave of absence from Tennis Channel in November 2018, we have been waiting for the legal system to run its course. Now that this is behind him, we will have internal meetings among our executives — and meetings with Justin — to discuss his future with Tennis Channel.”
It’s unclear why Gimelstob would be pleased to have pleaded no contest to a battery charge, but it is clear that Tennis Channel, which is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, is floundering in trying to deal with the situation. (Sinclair did not respond to requests for comment.) That the channel—which also employs Martina Navratilova, Mary Carillo, James Blake, and Jon Wertheim, among others—hasn’t already sprinted away from Gimelstob does something to describe the clout he holds in the tennis world and also, perhaps, the shape of the holes where Tennis Channel executives’ missing spines should be.
A source at Tennis Channel, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution, says some employees are wondering why Gimelstob, who has been with Tennis Channel since its early days, hasn’t been given the boot; they also offered a possible explanation.
“There is a feeling here that it would be shocking if he comes back and works for Tennis Channel,” the source said. “But at the same time, this guy is super powerful and has been at Tennis Channel since it started, so he has a very close relationship with [Tennis Channel president] Ken Solomon. They go way back.”
A Tennis Channel spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about Gimelstob and Solomon’s relationship.
Perhaps Tennis Channel is buying time to come up with a way to give Gimelstob a graceful exit, or maybe they’re waiting to see just how toxic he has become in the court of public opinion. Solomon struck a deferential note when speaking to the New York Times.
“Justin asked us for a hiatus period from his Tennis Channel announcing duties, prior to any legal proceedings, in order to have time to deal with his personal situation,” the Tennis Channel president said. “We, of course, acquiesced to his wishes. Together we agreed to meet whenever Justin was ready, presumably after due process has been served. We are here and ready to discuss the situation with Justin whenever appropriate, and will decide at that time.”
Whether the ATP will remove Gimelstob from the board or otherwise discourage him from running for another term is unclear; ATP spokesman Simon Higson did not respond to a request for comment. John Isner has yet to weigh in, either on this or on the broader question of just what it would take to get run out of tennis’s highest stations. If he does, it will probably be delightful.