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Tennys Sandgren needs to own what he’s all about

American declines to address questions about his Twitter feed after quarterfinal loss

MELBOURNE, Australia — Tennys Sandgren spent nearly 2½ hours at Rod Laver Arena trying to attack the cannons directed at him by Hyeon Chung during Wednesday’s quarterfinal match at the Australian Open.

Guess that activity in his straight-sets loss to Chung (6-4, 7-6, 6-3) gave him enough practice to attack the media.

Sandgren, who was revealed this week to have Twitter interactions with extremists and beliefs in extreme conspiracy theories, walked solemnly into the room an hour after his match, pulled out his phone and began reading a statement.

In a monotone delivery, Sandgren blamed the media for putting “people in these little boxes” to satisfy its “already preconceived notions.”

Sandgren said the media created “sensationalist coverage” to “mark me as the man you desperately want me to be.”

He added the media “would rather perpetuate propaganda machines instead of researching information from a host of angles and perspectives.”

Here’s a response to Sandgren, in a language he might understand:

#Fakenews.

If Sandgren wants to blame anyone for ruining what should have been the best two weeks of his life, he needs to look in the mirror. It all began to unravel earlier this week when he was asked about some of the interactions that filled his Twitter page.

When you get into the “researching of information” about Sandgren, here are some of the receipts:

  • Sandgren has had numerous Twitter exchanges with several white nationalists, including Nicholas Fuentes, a well-known figure who has attended numerous white nationalist rallies, including the gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, in October. When Sandgren won his fourth-round match, Fuentes congratulated his “long-time mutual, supporter, and friend” via Twitter and offering, “We have the best athletes, folks.” Who is we?
  • He claimed in a 2012 tweet that, after stumbling into a gay club, “my eyes are still bleeding #nooneshouldseethat.”
  • Sandgren responded in 2016 to an email about Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory that linked Hillary Clinton to human trafficking, tweeting that the collective evidence is too much to ignore.”

Some of his tweets were also connected to tennis.

After fans at the 2013 US Open booed American John Isner in his match against Frenchman Gael Monfils, Sandgren tweeted, “NYC doesn’t deserve the US Open. It needs to be moved south where we still have some pride in our country. #disgraceful.”

In a 2016 Twitter exchange with former American tennis player James Blake about race in America, Sandgren wrote, “I just don’t know how a country that practices systemic racism elected a black pres, twice.”

And he has a thing for Serena Williams. A 2013 tweet read, “Always a good day when Serena goes down” after her Australian Open loss to Sloane Stephens. Two years later, he labeled “disgusting” a link about Williams screaming a profanity after winning a point in the 2015 US Open.

That didn’t go unnoticed by Williams, who at the precise time of Sandgren’s quarterfinal match Wednesday gloriously tweeted these two words:

“Turns channel”

It’s doubtful that Williams was switching away from the latest episode of This Is Us.

Do any of these tweets make him a racist, a white nationalist or a member of the alt-right?

No.

But it does bring into question whom he supports, how he feels about the LGBTQ community and his views on far-fetched conspiracies.

In a climate where a black NFL quarterback falls under intense examination and can’t get a job because he took a knee to protest racial inequality in America, it’s fair for Sandgren to fall under that same microscope as Colin Kaepernick.

Sandgren’s tweets — and an internet search will reveal him covering a lot more topics than listed above — got in the way of what should have been the best story at the Australian Open.

A journeyman player with a unique first name, and with only two Grand Slam matches under his belt, wins four straight matches here, including two against top 10 opponents.

Here’s what happened to Sandgren: He never dreamed that he would make it to the second week of the Australian Open. When he pulled off the best four-match stretch of his life, he got caught off guard.

Sandgren’s tweets came to light to many in the mainstream media Monday, when he was asked about them during his postmatch news conference after upsetting No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem. I was at that media session and, hit with a twist to Sandgren’s story while on deadline in a different time zone, I wrote a story that never scratched the surface of Sandgren’s social media background.

I screwed up. I’ll own that.

Sandgren needs to own what he’s all about.

By Tuesday, Sandgren had deleted his tweets dating to the middle of 2017. By the start of his quarterfinal match, his entire Twitter history had been scrubbed clean.

Sandgren hasn’t proven to be anything but an emerging tennis player who has some interesting and unique interactions. If Sandgren really believes what he has tweeted and retweeted, he shouldn’t walk away from it.

Sandgren said the media seeks “to put people in these little boxes.” Yet he was the guy who attempted to box up his collection and tuck it away.

One beauty of social media is that people can demonstrate exactly who they are.

Another beauty of social media is that you can’t hide — and when you try, the public has the ability to package your beliefs in a neatly packaged archive.

Check social media and you’ll see that Sandgren has, indeed, been boxed.

I’d have better respect for Sandgren if he stood behind what he’s all about instead of running from his truth. What is he trying to hide?

You can support whatever moment you want through social media and tout any conspiracy theory that you believe in.

But be careful. When you go from obscure figure to success on an international stage in a little over a week, you’d better be able to handle the intense scrutiny that’s coming your way.

Sandgren handled it poorly on his last day at the Australian Open by reading off his phone about the controversy surrounding him, and by refusing to answer questions and stand by the person he is.

Maybe he’s a fly-by-night guy who’ll never be seen again.

Or maybe he’s a talented player who will make another deep run in a Grand Slam tournament.

A little advice to Sandgren: The next time you face the media, you’d better be ready to answer questions, rather than offering statements.

The questions will not go away.

We live in the divided states of America, and yet international sporting competitions mostly bring Americans together.

We may have international favorites whom we root for as individuals, but Americans typically rally around Americans.

Sadly, a lot of Americans on Wednesday were rooting against Sandgren. And, based on the tweet from Williams, that group might have included one of the greatest players in his sport.

Sandgren claims the media likes to “dehumanize with pen and paper and turn neighbor against neighbor.”

No media crimes committed here. Tennys Sandgren did that all by himself.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.