Three weeks ago, everything was different for Tiger Woods. That’s not that long ago. Twenty-one days ago, he was a billionaire who changed the game of golf forever and did it as a pillar of society.
He was John Galt … if John Galt had infidelity issues. Which, I guess would make him Henry Reardon. Either way, he was better than us.
Some might cringe at the suggestion that anyone is better than anyone else. Don’t cringe. It’s unbecoming. Your face looks vaguely reptilian when you scrunch it up like that. Relax your muscles and realize that we encouraged Woods to be better than us. It’s what he was selling, and seeing as how he’s a billionaire, I’d say we were happy to buy it.
Tiger Woods, in reality, isn’t worse than the other athletes with front page scandals. Kobe Bryant may or may not have raped someone (he definitely fooled around). Mike Tyson had his fair share of lady-problems. Michael Jordan is a gambling addict. Pete Rose too. Charles Barkley drives recklessly with lady friends. Ray Lewis and O.J. Simpson have both been suspected of murder. Manny Pacquiao has cheated on his wife at least once and is under scrutiny for having recently done it again. Andre Agassi wore a wig. Plaxico Burress wore sweatpants in public. Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Milli-Vanilla … they all lipsynched their songs. That’s pretty bad, no?
Tiger Woods? All he did was treat his wife like Tony Soprano treated Carmela. And that show was on HBO for eight years! People loved it. So why has it only taken three weeks for Woods to go from pillar to pariah? He’s still great at golf, right? Why is everyone leaving? Where’s everyone going? And why?
Tiger Woods sold himself – not his skill – to the public. His ability to hit a golf ball with power and accuracy is why we cared to examine Woods further, sure, but he made his fortune from the public measuring ourselves against him. And just as one can only measure something accurately if it is shorter than the measuring stick, so too was it true that Tiger Woods had to be better than all of us in order to see how we stacked up.
People get upset if you lie about the skills you have. They’ll drop you forever if you lie about the kind of person you are.
No one ever believed Bryant was perfect. He was always cunning and a teensy bit cold. A hard worker, always. But a good man? I dunno. Probably not. Because he never seemed like he cared to be liked. He cared to be respected. Same thing with Jordan or Armstrong. They never wrapped their personal lives in with their profession. The media tried (they always try), but fans know the difference between the media connecting the dots and the athlete doing it for them.
Woods carved out a place for himself in the public eye as a family man and a son who’d learned the lessons taught to him by a loving family and heckuva father. The media didn’t connect those dots. His advertisers did. They packaged it, sent it out and if you were one of the millions who bought it, then this has been a nasty three weeks for you too. Not as bad as Tiger, but still bad. Bad because his connection with his family, the institute of marriage and the lessons handed down through generations of fathers was something that many of us aspire to. Hell, it’s something that many of us achieve. Just like Tiger Woods. I can’t hit a golf ball more than 250 yards, I haven’t been able to dunk in five years and I’m scared of a 97 mph fastball, but I can raise a family. I can learn from my parents and be a real man.
Just like Tiger Woods.
Unless I can’t, just like Tiger Woods. Unless it’s as impossible as sinking a 40-foot putt. Because if John Galt isn’t perfect, then true brilliance must be a myth. And if this ruler isn’t accurate, what does that say about everything I’ve measured with it?
But I promised you a silver lining, didn’t I? A bright side to what has shaken more lives than any athlete should be able.
The bright side here is that Tiger Woods was, and to some, is, a man among men. Someone who meant more than just golf. Maybe by tearing him down, people will learn to stop building guys like him up so high. The word I’m looking for here is skepticism. But a more deeply-rooted skepticism than before.
Those who never found room for sports in their lives will continue to scoff. Let ‘em. Nothing to be done about them. Those who looked to athletes and the games they played as something that could save them … well, they still can, they’re just going to have to be careful now. More aware. Less accepting. So next time, we’ll all pause before selecting our heroes. We’ll pause to decide if we even want to select a hero.
It’s not that the public will slay potential superstars from developing, it’s that we’ll be paying attention to their development. It’ll be a defensive tactic. A way to protect ourselves from more falsehoods. We won’t get fooled again. Greatness on the playing field will always be awarded with accolades. Bet on it. It’s how we think about these men and women once the exit the playing field that needs to change, because that’s what hurts us.
Had we been told 15 years ago that Tiger Woods was a) going to be the most miraculous golfer of this or, perhaps, any other generation and b) he will demonstroubly cheat on his wife for years with multiple people, how would it have affected the way we look at Tiger Woods today?
Could it be much worse than how things have played out these last three weeks?
Photos courtesy of Flickr
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