Justin Gimelstob, a tennis coach, TV commentator and board member of the Association of Tennis Professionals, pleaded not guilty to a charge of felony battery in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
The case will be followed closely by the tennis community as Gimelstob’s post-playing career is in doubt after he was arrested on Nov. 21 in connection with a fight on Halloween night.
Randall Kaplan, a former friend of Gimelstob’s, told the police that Gimelstob attacked him without warning on the street while Kaplan was trick-or-treating with his wife and 2-year-old child. Kaplan told the police that Gimelstob hit him at least 50 times.
Gimelstob, 41, acknowledged that there was a fight that night, but said Kaplan initiated the physical altercation and provoked him with insults about Gimelstob’s father, who had died the week before the incident.
Gimelstob is due in court again on Jan. 31 for a preliminary hearing.
As the legal proceedings play out, Gimelstob is in jeopardy of losing one or more of his prominent roles in tennis. He is one of three coaches of John Isner, the highest-ranked American man. Gimelstob also is a frequent contributor to Tennis Channel and an elected official of the ATP, one of tennis’s seven governing bodies. Until the arrest, Gimelstob was seen as a potential successor to Chris Kermode, the ATP executive chairman and president.
In professional tennis, which is rife with conflicts of interest, it is not uncommon for one person to hold many roles simultaneously, especially in broadcasting and coaching.
For now, the three entities for which Gimelstob works — the ATP, Tennis Channel and Isner — have publicly adopted a wait-and-see approach.
There is no indication that the ATP has taken any steps yet to punish Gimelstob, but a vote on whether to remove him from the board of directors may be held in the coming days. He is one of three player representatives on the board, a position he first held in 2008.
“We are aware of the situation regarding Justin Gimelstob and understand that the recent allegations are part of an ongoing police matter,” the ATP said in a statement. “It would therefore not be appropriate for us to comment further at this time.”
Voting him out would require a unanimous decision from the seven members, or a majority of the 10-member player council, led by top-ranked Novak Djokovic.
Isner is also a member of the player council and, according to ESPN, he stood by Gimelstob on a recent conference call.
“We’ll know the facts soon enough,” said Isner, 33, who this year achieved his highest career ranking, No. 8, and reached his first Grand Slam semifinal, at Wimbledon. “It might not be a popular opinion, but as of now, I have to give Justin benefit of doubt.”
Tennis Channel, which is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, has also said it will monitor events in the court case. The network said it granted a request from Gimelstob to step aside from his job as a broadcaster during the legal process. Tennis is currently in its off-season, so no tournaments are being played. The new season begins at the end of the month.
“Justin asked Tennis Channel for a leave of absence while he works through this issue,” the network said in a statement. “As he is a longtime, valued member of our network family, we of course granted it to him. We believe that in today’s climate, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to recognize due process and the fact that there are multiple sides to every story. We don’t want to rush to immediate judgment, and will follow this closely as more detail comes to light.”
Before the Oct. 31 incident, Gimelstob, a prominent and exuberant presence at Isner’s matches, had said that he intended to reduce his workload in tennis to spend more time with his 5-year-old son, Brandon.
After his court appearance on Wednesday, Gimelstob issued a statement saying that on the advice of counsel, he would not comment on the specifics of the court case. He added, “I look forward to presenting the true and complete facts concerning this matter, not only about what really happened that night, but also about the long history of Mr. Kaplan’s behavior and toxic interference in my life.”
A spokesman for Kaplan’s lawyers said Kaplan was still receiving treatment for his injuries. “We are pleased that law enforcement is moving forward forcefully by filing a felony violation,” the spokesman said.
Gimelstob has been accused of other violent acts in news media reports following his arrest, but he said he was not the aggressor in those incidents. A court in California has issued a mutual restraining order against Gimelstob and his ex-wife, Cary Sinnott, as part of their divorce and child custody proceedings. Sinnott had previously sought a domestic violence restraining order; Gimelstob denied ever committing an act of domestic violence.
Gimelstob, who is from Morristown, N.J., and resides in Los Angeles, reached No. 63 in the rankings as a singles player and won two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. He retired in 2007.