I guess the last time I saw my old playground schoolmate, Roscoe Tanner, was when I – and millions of others – watched him take Bjorn Borg to five sets in the very first time the Wimbledon Tennis Championships finals was broadcast live in the United States. The telecast was hailed as “Breakfast at Wimbledon” and, for my money, there has never again been such a game, Borg finally winning the thriller, 7–6, 1–6, 6–3, 3–6, 4–6.
At the time – this was in 1979 – Roscoe, a native son of Lookout Mountain, was ranked No. 4 in the world and, a couple of months later, he avenged his loss by whipping Borg in four sets during the U.S. Open, which was made all the more notable when his rocket serve literally knocked down the net in the fourth and final set. Once in Palm Springs his left-handed serve was clocked at 153 miles per hour, if you can imagine such a feat, and he won a total of 16 pro tournaments, including the Australian Open in 1977.
But somewhere it all went wrong, the dream shattered in a catastrophic way, and this week in Florida one of the greatest athletes I have ever seen in my life will once again be hauled before a Indian River County judge to answer for a misdemeanor – Failure To Appear – and a felony – Third Degree Grand Theft. What is unbelievable is that he did the same thing – wrote a worthless check -- about this time last year. What is this guy thinking?
If you look up the former Baylor School hero on Wikipedia, here is what you will read about his personal life, this after his autobiography “Double Fault: My Rise And Fall, And My Road Back,” was published in 2005. You may need a piece of Kleenex:
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“Tanner has an extensive record of conflicts with the law. He was first arrested in 1997 for failure to pay child support to Connie Romano, with whom he fathered a child in the early 1990s. Tanner was arrested again in Karlsruhe (Germany) in June 2003 on a fugitive warrant. (This was about a week after he boasted in a Sports Illustrated article that Federal agents ‘will never come get me.”)
“He had fled from Florida after felony charges were filed against him. In this case, the charges related to passing a bad check to purchase a yacht in 2000 and to further nonpayment of child support to Romano. He pled guilty and received an initial sentence of probation.
“After violating the terms of his probation, Tanner was arrested again on Fugitive and Probation Violation warrants and was convicted and sentenced to two years in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections. He was released one year early for "good behavior" and extradited to Orange County California (in 2006) where he was jailed there on an outstanding warrant for Contempt of Court on a charge of refusal to pay child support.
“In May 2008, Roscoe Tanner was arrested in Knoxville, TN, for the felony of writing $72,000 in worthless checks as payment for two Toyota Highlanders. The felony charge was dismissed on August 14, 2008 after the dealership obtained return of the vehicles, which were taken out of town, and upon Tanner's payment of $5,000 in restitution to the dealership for the reduced value of the vehicles after their recovery. Several years before, Tanner had been arrested in Knoxville for violating probation resulting from his guilty pleas in Florida relating to felony worthless checks and grand theft.
“In April 2010, Tanner was evicted from his residence in Florida, and was in hiding from another warrant for his arrest from July 2010 until he was arrested in January 2012, on charges of writing a worthless $1,200 check for boat repairs.
“Tanner now lives in Vero Beach, FL, with his third wife, Margaret, and their 8-year old daughter, Lacey. Tanner teaches tennis and says that he is trying to turn his life around.
“On March 13, 2013 Tanner was arrested in Indian River County Florida on additional warrants, including a warrant for Worthless Check/ Failure to Appear and a Felony 3rd degree Grand Theft warrant from St Lucie County Florida. Tanner was released from jail on a $5000 bond and is awaiting trial.
“Additionally, Tanner is wanted in Georgia for Contempt of Court according to the Clerk of Court of Dade County, Georgia as of March 29, 2013. Tanner has been evading service of that warrant since July 23, 2009, according to the Sheriff of that county, where Tanner used to reside.”
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My gracious, Roscoe had it all and now he’s still passing bad paper. Some blame his overbearing father but I don’t buy that, not with how much he was influenced with a Baylor School and Stanford education. There has got to be a lot more to the story but I’ll guarantee you this: back when I watched him bang up John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors and Brian Gottfried, he was one of the best in the world.
Instead, at age 60, he is ranked among the greatest embarrassments in all of sports. For 20 years people have tried to help him climb out of his pit of troubles but Roscoe, using his tennis past to con his way out of one courtroom to the next, still hasn’t learned the more his failures mount, the easier it is to commit more transgressions.
Yeah, that special morning when we were glued to the TV sets 24 years ago was magical but now the only left-handed kid to ever play shortstop at the Lookout Mountain Commons needs a bigger miracle.
Roscoe Tanner, March 13, 2013