Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tiger and Me

“Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods. Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods.”

- Dan Bern, “Tiger Woods”

Sports fans don’t care about athletes’ personal lives. Especially golf players’ personal lives.

Recently, people have been questioning why it took so long for the public (or for that matter, his wife) so long to find out about Tiger Woods’ string of extramarital affairs, even though it was common knowledge on the PGA Tour.

Some have even accused the reticent sports reporters of perpetuating male chauvinism by not considering it news.

In contrast, sports reporters are far more respectable than their political peers, who love pursuing gossip rather than put in the hard time learning about policy and how it affects our country.

Sports reporters operate under two assumptions:

1) Sports fans care more about how an athlete performs than his personal life;

2) An athlete’s personal life rarely, if ever, has a bearing on how he performs.

Believe it or not, sports columnists are evaluated by their readers on the strength of the breaking news and sports analysis they bring to their columns, and only the sharpest writers, like Bill Simmons or the late Hunter S. Thompson, are permitted to deviate into side tangents.

If a sports reporter’s livelihood depends on earning the trust of the players and the franchises he is covering, it is of little interest to that reporter to get 15 minutes of fame (or less) talking about an affair, a drug problem, or a gambling addiction.

These “‘Former Player X’ Hits Rock Bottom” stories usually only surface when an athlete is no longer of use to the reporter for sports-related journalism.

Political reporting used to operate in this way too. It was presumed that serious newspapers had a serious readership.

Reports appropriately calculated that rather than break a story of Marilyn Monroe leaving the White House at three in the morning, they’d rather stay in the good graces of the Kennedy administration long enough to properly cover the Cuban Missile Crisis.

President Clinton’s affairs were the perfect storm- a charismatic leader facing his Achilles heel (adultery), an ideal nemesis in the hysterically hypocritical Republican leadership, and the carefree emptiness of the go-go late 90s.

Soon after, newspaper sales started to sink, and editors realized covering a sex scandal was a lot easier than covering climate change or the Stupak amendment, and less controversial than covering gay marriage or the Stupak amendment.

Playing to the lowest common denominator is fun and easy in America. Look at Huffington Post, which has become a gossip magazine with occasional political analysis. It’s how you bring in the bucks.

Sports, incidentally, will never face this problem, because there will always be a market of (mostly) men willing to pay money for good sports analysis.

I just dropped $26 to buy Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball, even though I can read his articles for free online and I already know a lot about basketball.

Except for hipsters, guys can kick back with friends or strangers, drinking beer and talking sports. And sports fans know A LOT about sports.

Guys who are complete idiots in life- nearly failed out of school, can’t hold a job- they will know the history of a sport.

They will successfully debate you on the fine points of whether a certain shot-blocker is actually a good defender or whether it is possible to compare baseball players from different eras.

It can break your heart to think about what a better country we would live in if sports fans knew a third as much about American history, civics and public policy as they do about sports.

As for Tiger Woods, this is what sports fans know about Tiger Woods.

When he was a teenager, golf reporters were hyping him as potentially the coming savior of golf- the greatest of all time.

Few people under the age of 40 like watching golf, but we were in the halo of the Michael Jordan era at that point, and watching “the greatest” in any sport was a worth a look.

And Tiger Woods delivered.

In a sport that’s incredibly hard to “dominate” in the same fashion as other solo sports like tennis or boxing, Woods in his prime cowered his opponents before demolishing them.

At the 1997 Masters, the 21 year old tied or broke 26 records en route to winning the prestigious event by more shots than any player in history.

From 2000-2001 he became the first modern golfer ever to hold the Tour’s four major championships at the same time (the “Tiger Slam”).

In 2008 he won the U.S Open with a torn ACL, clearly playing with agonizing pain as he labored to a one-shot win. Friends and I watching that called it perhaps the most impressive performance in the history of sports.

I’ve never been remotely interested in Woods’ personal life. He has always struck me as unflinchingly boring, which I had just chalked up to him being a golfer.

It wasn’t until I heard about the four and fifth cuckolder of this unending saga that I started reading about it.

Honestly, it is a fascinating scandal. He seems to have a taste for cocktail waitresses and porn stars.

Rather than a ‘mea culpa’ fling, he seems to be a serial cheater, before and after his marriage to a gorgeous Swedish supermodel. “What hope is there for the rest of us?” one of my female friends sighed.

When I read about him doing it in the back of his car with a pancake house waitress, it occurred to me that maybe something was up.

Maybe the lifelong prodigy, always under the tight supervision of his loving dad Earl (who passed away in 2006), playing in top ranked tournaments since he was nine years old, missed out on a regular youth.

Maybe he was never able to party in clubs and hook up with girls in the back of his car when he was in high school or college (Stanford alums, feel free to comment).

Maybe this is like Michael Jackson’s rebellion at a repressive youth, only instead of taking advantage of little boys, he’s taking advantage of adult women.

His wife has left him, just as Michael Jordan’s wife left him.

Next year he will win the Masters, and in a few years he will pass Jack Nicklaus for the most all-time major championships.

It will be taboo to bring this whole debacle up, kind of like how no one in sports talks about Kobe Bryant’s alleged rape charge anymore.

So there it is. That’s about as much thought as I will put into the Tiger Woods scandal. Back to taking care of my fantasy basketball team.

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