In the 2017 fiction novel “Trophy Son” written by American novelist Douglas Brunt, perhaps better known as the husband of journalist and NBC news anchor Megyn Kelly, several real-life athletes have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Brunt’s third and most recent novel tells the story of a fictional tennis prodigy named Anton Stratis. In “Trophy Son,” Stratis has been deprived of a ‘normal’ childhood. His obsessive father, a former athlete himself, constantly grooms his son to be the #1 tennis player in the world. He removes Anton from school, leaving the young boy lonely and unsocialized throughout his childhood.
Later on, Stratis does enter onto the professional scene of tennis – alongside his fictional coach, trainer and entourage – and he rapidly becomes one of the top tennis players in the world with the help of anabolic steroids.
While the novel is categorized as fiction, something decidedly non-fictional takes place in the fifteenth chapter.. One of Brunt’s fictional characters, pro tennis trainer Bobby Hicks, not only claims that the use of steroids and other PEDs among real-life professional tennis players is rampant, but he even dares to name names. The fictional Hicks accuses Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer and Andy Murray of using steroids
“[The use of PEDs is] pervasive in tennis and has been for years,” according to the fictional Hicks.
This peculiar transition from fictional characters to real-life people is quite controversial – and for good reason. These serious accusations that could be considered defamatory under the law.
But most shocking is that none of the athletes Brunt accused of steroid usage in his book has ever failed an anti-doping test. There is nothing more to support Brunt’s claims than the unsubstantiated rumors that these pro tennis players have used PEDs.
In fact, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is extremely outspoken in his anti-doping stance. Djokovic has made public claims insisting that tennis is a ‘clean’ sport. However, Djokovic is sometimes suspected of using steroids due to his remarkable stamina. Much like Djokovic, British player Andy Murray is also very outspoken in his stance against PEDs but his tennis dominance invites doping suspicions nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Spanish player Rafael Nadal has been accused of using PEDs mainly because of his muscular appearance, although this is hardly proof of guilt. There may also be an unfair bias towards Spanish athletes; many believe that Spanish athletes may be more likely to use steroids due to the country’s historically lax anti-doping laws and the more culturally permissive attitudes towards doping.
Similarly, Spanish tennis player David Ferrer may also be a victim of this anti-Spanish bias. But the suspicions over Ferrer’s steroid use have also been fueled by the fact that Ferrer worked with doctor Luis Garcia del Moral. Garcia conspired to provide PEDs to athletes on Lance Armstrong’s cycling team and received a lifetime ban from the USADA as punishment.
Novelist Douglas Brunt has been forced to defend himself and the accusations made in his new novel. He insists that it was necessary to include the names of real players.
“It resonates with the reader more if they can ground the issue with a real backdrop,” Brunt said.
Brunt claims it was never his intention for these few lines in Chapter 15 of his book to create such a controversy.
“I didn’t set out to write some book on performance-enhancing drugs,” said Brunt. “As a matter of plot, it’s a small percentage and sort of a side thread to the overall sacrifice these athletes make in any sport…”
“I certainly did not set out to hurt anyone. I just wanted to shine the light on this issue…”
“I don’t know the truth; I haven’t got the videotape. But there have been all sorts of rumors and speculations around certain players… I’m not the one out here throwing darts — these darts have been thrown for years.”
Stuart Miller, the International Tennis Federation’s senior executive director of integrity and development, strongly disagrees with Brunt on this matter.
“Audiences will see this as statement of fact, not just a piece of fiction,” Miller said. “It is a concern for the players and you could argue that it is defamatory.”