In a detailed interview with Racquet in November and Slate in August, Zverev’s former partner, Olya Sharypova, described him punching, strangling and hitting her over the course of their 13-month relationship, including at tournament hotels. She also recounted Zverev’s attempts to control who she saw and what she did — classic signs of domestic abuse — and his telling her, “I hope you will die … but not in my room.” Sharypova offered contemporaneous text messages, photos of bruising, and witness testimony in support of her account. (Zverev denies the allegations.)
Nearly a year later, the ATP hasn’t investigated the allegations or done much of anything to address them. Instead, the ATP has promoted the star on its social media accounts while, until recently, asserting that the allegations were none of its business. “In circumstances where allegations of violence or abuse are made against any member of the Tour, legal authorities investigate and due process is applied, we then review the outcome and decide the appropriate course of action,” it said in a statement. “Otherwise, we are unable to comment.”
As advocates who have fought for years on behalf of students and workers who have suffered rape and dating violence, that’s a refrain we hear a lot. Too often, schools, employers and other organizations insist that these kinds of allegations can be addressed only by the courts — even as they routinely investigate and punish all kinds of other misconduct.
Every organization has an ethical obligation to address abuse within its ranks; the ATP is no different. It should care about safeguarding players and the people with whom they interact on tour. And it has a responsibility to the public to make clear that a man’s athletic prowess does not give him a pass to abuse women.
Indeed, other leagues, including the NFL and MLB, often act to address claims of abuse, with or without law enforcement involvement. In 2020, for instance, the MLB investigated and suspended player Domingo German for 81 games, after learning that he had abused his partner. In 2019, the NFL investigated and suspended running back Kareem Hunt for pushing and kicking a woman in his home. In both cases, the leagues acted without law enforcement pressing charges.
Organizations cannot simply rely on police investigations. Many domestic violence victims don’t feel safe reporting to the police; many credible complaints are never investigated at all. In the rare case that a report leads to prosecution, a trial can take years — at which point an institutional response is often no longer helpful. The ATP’s insistence that it needs a court to weigh in before it can act is no more than a delay tactic.
It’s also sexist. The ATP’s own policies show that it investigates and disciplines athletes for all kinds of misconduct, including serious criminal conduct such as drug use and, yes, physical violence. A few years back, the ATP investigated and imposed sanctions on a player for the offense of trash talk. More recently, the ATP placed a player on probation after an investigation determined he had broken the tour’s coronavirus protocols (a violation that could have resulted in a three-year suspension). Last week, another tennis association fined a player $10,000 for carrying a bag with too big a logo.
Why should domestic violence be any different? Why should an organization punish players for all kinds of other offenses, but then throw up its hands when faced with an allegation of gendered harm, committed on tour? The ATP hasn’t volunteered its justification for carving out this exception. But history, and our experience dealing with these kinds of policies, suggest that this exception relies on misogynistic myths: that women lie, that good men must be specially protected from accusations and that domestic violence is a “private” matter, not one of public concern. (This differential treatment of gendered allegations is discussed at length in “Sexual Justice,” a book one of us just published.)
After months of dragging its feet, and much public pressure, the ATP announced it is evaluating its policies. But it doesn’t have to wait for that process to end before it begins addressing the allegations against Zverev, and it shouldn’t. As it stands, current ATP policy forbids players from “physically abus[ing] any … person within the precincts of the tournament site,” which, an ATP spokesperson confirmed to Slate, includes tournament hotels, where some of Zverev’s alleged abuses occurred.
What’s more, ATP already has all the tools it needs to provide Zverev due process in any investigation of his alleged misconduct. Existing ATP rules give the accused the opportunity to provide evidence, review an investigator’s written findings of fact and appeal.
That process may not look like a full criminal trial, but, despite ATP’s suggestion to the contrary, courts don’t have a monopoly on fairness. Due process — as both a legal and ethical matter — takes different forms depending on the stakes and circumstances: Put simply, a person facing fines, probation or suspension from tennis is not entitled to the same onerous process as someone facing prison.
This particular investigation might be an easy one: Racquet and Slate have already interviewed Sharypova on multiple occasions, compiled photographic evidence and contemporaneous messages describing the abuse and confirmed key details with third parties. Meanwhile, in the face of Sharypova’s detailed accounting, Zverev has offered vague, blanket denials. “While I very much regret that those allegations have been made, I have to stick to my initial thing of them being untrue and continue to deny them,” he read from his phone in a 2020 statement.
The ATP’s silence and delay, as Zverev reaches the pinnacle of tennis, is a stain on the sport. Athletic competition should serve as an inspiration to the public. But the ATP now sends a very different kind of message to fans around the world, including abuse survivors: Men accused of wrongdoing have no reason to fear discipline, so long as they are talented enough.
This story has been updated.