John McEnroe, Tennis' Bad Boy: The Jerk Who Made Us Watch

By | February 13, 2020

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Left: McEnroe invites the camera to talk to the hand. Right: McEnroe yells during a match at the 1984 French Open. Sources: IMDB; Gilbert Iundt; Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/TempSport/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

In the early '80s, John McEnroe was the bad boy of tennis -- and that's putting it nicely. While many fans of the sport admired his skill, few would defend his behavior. It was a fact of sports -- John McEnroe, in the heat of battle, was a jerk, known for outbursts of complaining, arguing calls, insulting umpires and linesmen, slamming rackets, and worse. He was a winner on the court who was dubbed "McBrat" or "Mad Mac," a loud-mouthed New Yorker who lacked the decorum expected by the aristocratic fans of a gentleman's game.

"I really was pretty much of a jerk," he would later admit in his autobiography.

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McEnroe's temper both fueled and hurt his game (sportscasting)

A time-traveler from the Reagan era would hardly recognize the John McEnroe of today, who is a fairly charming analyst and beloved figure in the tennis world. This is the former enfant terrible of the sports world? As McEnroe said to many a court umpire: You cannot be serious.

No professional tennis player before or since was as polarizing as “McBrat.” People either detested his childish antics or loved him for his fierce competitiveness and wild behavior that was such a departure from the stuffy country club atmosphere of tennis. Johnny Mac also partied like a rockstar, dated models, and brought in a new demographic of blue-collar fans.