This week’s episode of Undeniable with Joe Buck features tennis legend and 18-time Grand Slam winner Martina Navratilova. Navratilova’s hour-long interview with Buck highlights some of the most significant events from her life on and off the court.
Navratilova is one of the most prominent athletes who has come out and when discussing that decision she says that when she told her parents “all hell broke loose” and ultimately they decided to go back to Czechoslovakia. She reveals that her dad educated himself and kept and open mind and eventually came to accept her for who she was.
Martina Navratilova On Coming out
NAVRATILOVA: I lived in Dallas now, I’m twenty-four years old, and I’m in a gay relationship which they didn’t know about. I wasn’t going to tell them unless they asked, if they asked I would tell them but they didn’t ask so I didn’t say anything. And of course this is 1980, so you can imagine, this definitely wasn’t something that you talked about. And finally my dad asked me, ‘we think that you and Rita may live together as man and woman.’ I said well yes we do. And then all hell broke loose. And it was about three months after that they decided to go back to Czechoslovakia.
BUCK: Did that ever rectify itself? Did you ever have a moment with your dad, did you ever have a moment with your mom, or… you know where it was ‘aah. We can just kind of relax?’
NAVRATILOVA: Yes. Well my dad – I mean again, Czechoslovakia – gay people were put into insane asylums and women were kind of discounted. So it was definitely a bad thing to be that so when my dad found out, for a couple years we had a tough relationship. But he educated himself, he read books about it and came to me without me saying anything. He said ‘you know, I don’t think I realize this has nothing to do with me, nothing to do with you, this is who you are and I just want you to be happy.’ So he educated himself and was very open minded, and…
BUCK: He bridged that gap?
NAVRATILOVA: He bridged that gap, completely.
Martina Navratilova on Defecting from Czechoslovakia
NAVRATILOVA: The whole family was out of the country at the same time, we could have defected then. Looking back, I think I wish we had because we would have had the family together. Because it was after that when I got back that summer that the federation said ‘uh uh, we’re not going to let you go play the US Open,’ which is, you know, two months later. And I thought, well if they don’t let me, I don’t have a choice. You know, if you don’t get the visa you don’t go. You can’t go against the federation’s wishes. So finally, week before, they said ‘okay, we’ll let you go.’
So they did and it was at that time, at that moment that I knew I wouldn’t come back. Because I couldn’t live with not knowing if I get to go out again.
BUCK: But you know the other side of it…
BUCK: Which is: once you make that decision…
NAVRATILOVA: It’s a one-way ticket.
BUCK: There’s no going back.
BUCK: And once you make that decision, your mom and dad are left behind.
BUCK: Did you tell your mom when you left…
BUCK: … for the US Open you were going to defect?
NAVRATILOVA: No. And this is when I always cry but I’m not going to cry this time because it’s a very long interview. But I knew I wasn’t going to go back. I talked to my dad and he said if you don’t go back, if you don’t come back don’t tell your mom. And when you call us don’t believe us if we say come back because they’re making us say that. So it was kind of planned ahead, but uh, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I would do it but like 99 when I left. But you know, if I knew a hundred percent I don’t know if I would have had the guts to do it. But it was kind of easier three weeks later to just say I can’t deal with this. But it still obviously was very difficult and, you know, broke my mom’s heart.
BUCK: Did it, I guess, feel like kind of a betrayal? That you weren’t totally honest with her?
BUCK: Why does it make you that emotional, other than the obvious reasons when you say it broke your mom’s heart? Because you were just leaving her behind?
NAVRATILOVA: I wasn’t going to cry. Shit. You do this to everybody though don’t you? I’m going to call you Barbara Walters from now on.
BUCK: Just refer to me as Barbara.
NAVRATILOVA: Barbara Walters.
BUCK: Barbara Buck.
NAVRATILOVA: Barbara Walters, I don’t think she made me cry as much as you are making me cry.
Martina Navratilova on Getting Angry
BUCK: Was your relationship, your closeness with Chris Evert seen as a detriment?
NAVRATILOVA: Oh yeah. First off it’s different for everybody. Some people play better when there is an adversarial feeling to it – when they really don’t like the other person they play better, some people play worse. I play better when I play against friends than against people I don’t like. Thankfully, there weren’t that many people that I really didn’t like on the tour. They were all pretty nice so I didn’t have an issue, but I played much better against people that I liked. But Nancy brought another aspect to it. There is a net between us but there is a direct conflict obviously, because, you know, they hit the ball and I hit it back. So there is that one-on-one situation. And Nancy being a basketball player, team sport, you’re nice to your teammates but you’re never nice to your opponents. And you know, there’s a lot of trash talking in basketball. There’s no such thing in tennis. She didn’t want me to trash talk, but she would trash talk Chris. Without Chris knowing about it.
NAVRATILOVA: And said you’ve got to hate your opponent. You can’t be nice.
BUCK: Even if it’s fake hate? I mean, how could you hate Chris?
NAVRATILOVA: Well it, it was something she made me realize she has something that I want. So you’ve got to stop being nice. It doesn’t that I’m going to be nasty, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to cheat, but I need to get that killer instinct.
Navratilova discusses these and a variety of other topics on this week’s episode, which airs on DIRECTV and AT&T U-verse’s AUDIENCE Network and DIRECTV NOW Wednesday (11/1) at 8pm ET/PT