‘The best racist isn’t a dead racist’

Tennys Sandgren has been forced to answer questions about his political views.
Tennys Sandgren has been forced to answer questions about his political views.


I'M NOT going to lie. At first I didn't want to touch this topic with a 10-foot pole publicly.

But the way people on Reddit have started talking in the last 24 hours makes me feel it's worth it. And yeah, this is a wall of text. Read or don't. Up to you.

Tennys Sandgren has expressed some alt-right sympathies. His Twitter history before he deleted it makes that pretty obvious. Some of the things he re-tweeted or liked on Twitter weren't great.

But if you don't like that, and you want to change it, calling for his career to end, for him to lose all his sponsors, or (disgustingly as I've seen a few times) for him to die is precisely the wrong way to go about it.

If you assume Tennys is racist and you wish he were dead, then here's my thought for you: the best racist isn't a dead racist. The best racist is the one who changes his mind.

Tennys grew up in Tennessee. It's a deeply Republican state with a long history of racism and poverty. He has been influenced by his environment. He's not alone in this.

There are people from his part of the country with some of his background who are actual, open, crazy racists and bigots. I'm talking "Obama is a space alien, all gays should die" type crazy.

Well guess what? When you grow up around that it affects you.

Tennys Sandgren charged into the second week of the Open.
Tennys Sandgren charged into the second week of the Open.

I grew up in rural Australia. It was very much a homophobic culture back then. I haven't lived there in 20 years or more so I don't know what it's like now, but back then forget about it.

That shaped me a little. I repeated a lot of the same homophobic rubbish I heard around me. "Gays are unnatural" kind of stuff. But I didn't repeat it because it was a deeply-held belief. I did it because that was the culture that I grew up in.

As I moved into my teenage years, and moved to a different part of the country, I became ambivalent on the issue. Then I actually started to think about it, and that changed everything.

I spoke with people, had my views challenged in real discussion and I came completely 180 degrees. I actively support gay marriage and the rights of all people now (and have for a long time) where once I would not have.

Tennys is, by all accounts, a good guy in person. He is very well liked on the tour by his fellow players.


Serena Williams doesn’t appear to be Tennys Sandgren’s biggest fan.
Serena Williams doesn’t appear to be Tennys Sandgren’s biggest fan.


Jamere Jenkins, a black tennis player who played for one of Tennys' college rivals tweeted saying Tennys wasn't a racist earlier today - and then deleted his tweet when he got attacked.

Tennys hasn't run around attending neo-Nazi rallies. He hasn't taken real action. He has areas where he's ignorant. This is where the rest of the world comes in.

If you want to take someone who has some borderline views like Tennys, and turn them into an actual hardliner, then the single best way to do it is to act like an animal yourself.

Call for his death. Wish for a horrific injury. Hope that his livelihood is taken away.

Do that, and studies have shown over and over and over again that all you're doing is entrenching and strengthening beliefs that don't seem to be really that strong to begin with. You create the monster you're imagining this guy to actually be.

You want to actually change something? Engage. Ask questions.

However you might feel about his tweets, Sandgren has shown he's willing to engage with people.

Instead of excoriating the man and driving him into a corner, leave room for him to actually come out.

All the evidence that I've seen so far indicates that Tennys isn't a hard-core right-wing entrenched bigot.

He's a topically ignorant, decent guy who has been shaped by his environment. I think Tennys is someone who can be reached, and who is willing to be engaged. I think we as a community can do better than this.

This piece originally appeared on Reddit and is republished here with permission.

Follow Glen on Twitter at @GlenSHill, or visit his website at

Topics:  australian open 2018 tennys sandgren