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John McEnroe Ponders His Prostate

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Once the enfant-terrible of professional tennis, a middle-aged Mac has grown less concerned with his backhand than with his backside. To be sure, his latest endeavor leaves him little time for asinine behavior. In his publicized quest for men's health, McEnroe promises to keep his end up and presses for the US Open to be a place where men can, well, be more open. Okay, okay enough with the double-entendres.

Now that you're 50, you're encouraging other 50-year-olds to pay more attention to their prostate. Why this of all things?

Dad had prostate cancer a couple years ago so I became more aware of this particular issue and somebody asked me to do it. It seemed like more of a no-brainer. I mean, just given the fact that I made my living being active and wanting to continue to do so and me thinking that if we encourage people to simply go see a doctor and get a checkup or then go on this website 50over50challenge.com and then take a health assessment. Basically it's to go see a doctor and see what options you have, because it's a potentially a much bigger problem, if you don't check it.

A prostate exam -- even talking about your prostate -- is an uncomfortable thing for most men. How good are you with convincing people to do uncomfortable things?

Well, that's a, that's a good question, I mean hopefully I practice what I preach. I think people see me enough and I feel like they know that I am someone who tries to say it like it is and they listen to what I say. But, you know, ultimately that remains to be seen. I mean, it's like guys are uncomfortable even asking people for directions when they get lost in a car, You don't wanna even do that. So if you times this by x-amount, where guys my age, I mean me included, it's like "Oh we gotta, when we hit the big 5-0, go to a doctor and get checked. It's like "Oh, I dunno if I really wanna do that." I think it's the ultimate "better safe than sorry." I think that in the end you'd be far better off doing it than not doing it because at the very least you're checking out what options are available to you. So it's sorta to me like a no-lose situation.

What do you make of all these reports that prostate exams can make things worse, not better?

Well, I'm not sure that that's what they're saying; that the exams make them worse. What they're saying is that jury is still out as to whether it automatically means that if, from what I understand, your tests say positive for possible cancerous conditions that in fact that's the case. So, to me, it's all the more reason, because there are even doctors that have different views. It's like watching people talk politics. You hear one person come on saying one thing, and then you hear someone else say something completely different and you wonder, like, where the truth lies. So I suppose the best thing to do in this case, would be to go to your own doctor and to get yourself as educated as possible about it, particularly given the fact that it seems to be a little bit more unclear what.... I mean, it's hard to believe that if you take a blood test of some kind -- what's traditionally being accepted as getting your PSAs checked -- and checking on whether your prostate's enlarged, that ultimately that's like a bad thing. I find that hard to believe.

For three years running now the Milwaukee Brewers do a promotion where men who take a free prostrate exam in a trailer outside Miller park get into the Brewers games free. How do think that would go over in front of the All England Tennis Club at Wimbledon?

I think that would outstanding, actually. I think that's tackling it head on. I think that the idea of getting something for free, particularly something you love, like a ticket to a sporting event -- I think maybe for people some people that wouldn't otherwise do it, I think it would get them over the hump. I think it would be an outstanding idea.

Last month the United Arab Emirates refused to grant a visa to Israeli Shahar Peer excluding her from a major WTA event in Dubai. Venus Williams and other players said they stood in solidarity with Peer but played anyway. If you were a player what would you have done?

Well, obviously, uh, this is not an easy, black or white situation. It's easy for me to be a back seat driver and say like I wouldn't have played. I suppose it's more complicated had you gone over there already. I know that I did certain things, as a player, and I like to think I held firm to my beliefs I had. I would have liked to tell you that I wouldn't have played. I would have liked to tell you that they shouldn't have had the tournament whatsoever. But there's also a lot of hypocritical things that you would make the same argument that we....or our government, I mean, there's things that you look at that are inexplicable in terms of what our own government does or what other people do. So to sorta single out that one particular thing and then sorta judge people -- it would be unfair of me. Also because there's a lot of people, probably our whole country that does business, a great deal of business with that country. How can you go after a player who decides to play when we're investing, we're like in bed with these people?

I suppose one could take issue with WTA Chairman Larry Scott who chose not to protect one of his members because it was inconvenient.

I read what he decided to do, and he basically said next year they wont have the event. Of course that happened at the end, right before the tournament started. All the players were there already. Had it happened a week earlier, for example, I would suspect that a lot of the players wouldn't have gone. I know Andy Roddick made a stand and refused to go the following week, which I thought said something about his character. And I believe he had won the tournament the year before, so in a way he hurt himself by not going. But I respect that he felt strongly enough about it to make some type of stand. Ultimately, I I guess with politics the more that I watch it, it seems like the less I know. You know, the more I think I know the less I actually do know.

Larry Scott left WTA last week to take over the PAC-10. What about you taking over the WTA after this prostate promotion?

(laughs) I'm not sure that that would be the ideal move for either the women's tour or myself but at the same time I must tell you this; from a player who believed, back when I was younger, that equal prize money was absurd and crazy, to someone who's now a father of six and four of my six kids are girls, and seeing the world from a totally different perspective, in a large part because of , having brought girls into this world. Being a father of 4 girls just made me look at things completely differently. So I think that I it wouldn't be as implausible as it would have been a while ago.

The surgeon general's job is still open. But I guess you'd rather stay in tennis?

I feel like there's a lot of things left undone in tennis. I've been given a lot in tennis so I feel like I should give something back. Specifically I've always been interested in where the US Open's played. It feels like there's a lot of politics in that, which is frustrating because it seems like a no-brainer to me, but other people must not feel the same way. So I'm gonna continue sorta plug away. In the meantime, because I'm active still and because I get out there on the court and play seniors events. I'm in a pretty good place all in all. But I have turned 50 so not only does it make you think, ok, you've gotta go these things like getting checked and making sure you're healthy but also: What am I gonna be doing the next 10 years? I'm not gonna be just playing seniors tennis as much as I have been. It would be nice to make an impact somewhere else.

What is it about the US Open you want to change?

I want them to have a tennis academy, you know, the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at the US Open. It would allow people to get a free prostate exam. You gave me an idea in my head with that Milwaukee Brewers thing. If by some chance I can convince the people at the USTA that I've been dealing with for 10 years to try to get this [Academy] going, then perhaps I can lay some of these other ideas on 'em.