Pam Shriver, a Hall of Fame tennis player, penned a first-person essay in The Telegraph and detailed in an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines how she had “an inappropriate and damaging relationship with my much older coach.”
She was 17 years old and the coach, the late Don Candy, was 50 when the relationship began. And although it lasted five years, the now 59-year-old ESPN tennis analyst chose to speak out because “this still goes on—a lot.”
“I believe abusive coaching relationships are alarmingly common in sport as a whole,” she wrote in The Telegraph. “My particular expertise, though, is in tennis, where I have witnessed dozens of instances in my four-and-a-bit decades as a player and commentator. Every time I hear about a player who is dating their coach, or I see a male physio working on a female body in the gym, it sets my alarm bells ringing.”
Shriver’s professional tennis career began in 1978 at age 15, and Candy was not only the teenager’s coach but also her chaperone. Though the relationship became inappropriate about two years into her career, Shriver revealed it did not become sexual until she was 20.
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The eventual five-time Wimbledon doubles champion said there was not sexual abuse, but said there was emotional abuse. Candy, who died in 2020, was 33 years older than her.
“I felt a lot of shame and guilt,” Shriver told OTL. “I felt also a lot of anger, jealousy when his wife would come to tournaments. So it was just basically, at times really miserable.
“And because I was, you know, living the life of trying to be the best tennis player I could be, I really didn’t understand how difficult the secret and the juggling was. And so I just kept it to myself. Some of my close friends eventually learned, but you know what? It was kind of a little bit, I don’t want to say normalized, but I wasn’t the only one. We weren’t the only boundary-crossing relationship on the tour at the time.”
Shriver went on to say she kept it a secret from her family, and she never ended up telling her mother, who died in August 2021. Her father does know.
The tennis star described the relationship as “traumatic,” adding that it “shaped my whole experience of romantic life. It stunted my ability to form normal relationships and set certain patterns which would recur: my ongoing attraction to older men and my difficulties in understanding how to maintain healthy boundaries.”
The WTA released a statement about the matter, per ESPN, saying the tour “is dedicated to ensuring a safe environment across our Tour” and that “safeguarding requires vigilance, and we are continuing to invest in education, training and resources to improve our efforts . The health and safety of all WTA Tour stakeholders—including the players—is our priority, and our commitment to safeguarding remains resolute.”