The XX Factor

Jimmy Connors Is Woefully out of Line on Chris Evert’s Abortion

Jimmy Connors in September 2012

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Seventies-era tennis star Jimmy Connors has a new autobiography out, and he’s using it to take some nasty jabs at his former girlfriend and fellow tennis champion Chris Evert. Jessica Luther of the Atlantic explains:

“But now, 35 years later, Connors is releasing a biography this week titled The Outsider, in which he strongly hints that during their whirlwind affair in 1974, Evert got pregnant and had an abortion. He says that she did so without allowing him to be part of the decision-making, though he states that he ‘was perfectly happy to let nature take its course and accept responsibility for what was to come.’ He bitterly writes to Evert in the book, ‘Well, thanks for letting me know. Since I don’t have a say in the matter, I guess I am just here to help.’”

Though in the book Connors indicates that he made that last remark to Evert over the phone, Luther’s larger point stands: Connors is trying to shame Evert by making a spectacle of her private reproductive choices. And while Evert shouldn’t need a defense either way, the memoir seems fantastically unwilling to acknowledge that a tennis star at the top of her game has good reasons for not wanting to be pregnant. Instead, Connors comes close to implying that his then-girlfriend’s decision to abort resulted from a misunderstanding of his intentions, when in fact he “was perfectly happy to let nature take its course and accept responsibility for what was to come.” (He’s just as glib and self-aggrandizing about other sources of tension, such as Evert’s pesky desire to be comforted after a loss. Those headaches go to show you, he writes, that “You can’t have two number ones in a relationship.”)

There’s a callousness to the way Connors sandwiches details about the abortion in between his tennis results. “That all happened during one of only two pro tournaments I didn’t win in 1974,” he contextualizes, in a line so unselfconsciously self-absorbed it led one Slate colleague to wonder if he suffered from Asperger Syndrome. Even if part of his pique stemmed  from being asked to “handle the details” of the procedure, without having a say in whether it happened or not, it’s hard to take him seriously as a spokesman for the notion of equal partnership. (“You can’t have two number ones,” etc). If, in some magical alternate reality, the young Jimmy Connors had gotten pregnant, are we to imagine he would have waited a second before enlisting Evert’s help in taking whatever steps he thought best?

Maybe we should thank Connors for underscoring why it’s important for women to have the right to unilaterally choose abortion. No man should have a glimmer of a wisp of an opportunity to pressure you into giving him a baby that will tie you to him forever, especially if he can act as caddish as the “Brash Basher of Belleville.”  

In a statement released on May 9, Chris Evert seemed understandably upset:

“In his book, Jimmy Connors has written about a time in our relationship that was very personal and emotionally painful. I am extremely disappointed that he used the book to misrepresent a private matter that took place 40 years ago and made it public, without my knowledge. I hope everyone can understand that I have no further comment.”

Here’s how I would have phrased it:

Look, Jimmy, it’s totally unfair that some of us can get pregnant and some of us can only impregnate. But in the grand scheme of things, this system brought to us by mindless evolution is much more unfair to women than men. Not only do women have to undergo the indignities of menstruation and routine gynecological care, but if we do get pregnant, we’re the ones who either endure the abortion or have our bodies painfully bent out of shape to bear the child. In exchange, we get decision-making power over those pregnancies. Full stop. The alternative—giving a man the right to force childbirth or force abortion simply because he once had sex with you—is too terrible a violation of human rights to be tolerated in a civilized society.

So stop whining already. You sound like McEnroe.