I don’t know how I got the celebrity beat at Vox Nova, but for whatever reason I always find what seems to me to be an interesting wrinkle in parts of our pop culture. Over the past few months or so, the world has been buzzing about golfer Tiger Woods. Words like redemption and greatness are thrown around.
I was at a small social gathering several weeks ago, and the topic of Tiger Woods came up. The host pondered whether we should forgive Tiger and forget his indiscretions. I never really felt a personal obligation in that regard. I stated simply that the guy was scum for what he did. I know, little old judgmental me. The host in fact offered that Tiger Woods had opportunities and pressures that more easily facilitated rampant infidelity. After close to a decade of marriage, I know that one doesn’t have to be Tiger Woods to cheat. Having worked in a couple of hotels and driven a taxi cab, I’m well aware of the stuff needed to cheat: the ability to fog a mirror is a good start, but I’m not even sure that’s required. Well, the host acknowledged the low barriers to entry for an aspiring adulterer. He then went on to exhort that one must acknowledge Woods’s greatness on the golf course.
Certainly one is deprived if they don’t have a faculty to appreciate greatness. I will readily concede that at this point in his career, Woods is one of the best ever to have played the game of golf. When he retires, he may even be considered the greatest. And perhaps the eagerness to give the appellation of great wouldn’t bother me so much if we didn’t live in such a romantic culture – to pick a religious example, in traditional circles you’ll commonly hear people claim that all that is good and holy about the church is because of their tribe, and all that is evil and wrong is due to those liberals or modernists. Woods will get his awards someday. He’ll probably be named into the PGA Hall of Fame. (I’m resisting the urge to go off on a tangent on Pete Rose and the baseball hall of fame.) But in the end, golf really isn’t all that important. (Yes, Americans are sports obsessed, but we don’t have riots at soccer matches.) And if in the end, the cultural phenomenon that is Tiger Woods is known more for his one-night stands, serial adultery, and his pathetic defense of his marriage than for his ability to score low in golf, I guess I’m just missing the tragedy. No, Tiger Woods doesn’t owe me anything, but last I checked I didn’t owe the game of golf anything.
Historically we have indeed looked to sport as modeling virtues like perseverance in adversity, hard-work, and discipline. Things have changed. Sports at one time were hobbies. One doesn’t have to look very far to see that there is very little worth modeling in the lives of today’s athletes. More often the mark of a tremendous athlete today is someone that has neglected anything important in one’s life in pursuit of wealth, glory, and fame. Sure there are exceptions. It is true that while Magic Johnson was having numerous sexual partners and getting HIV, his Laker teammate A.C. Green was proudly noting his virginity and his intention to wait until marriage. Then you have seemingly admirable people like Lance Armstrong. He’s widely believed and has been openly accused by leading cyclists of doping. While being treated for testicular cancer, he abandoned his wife and children for Sheryl Crow. He later abandoned his marriage to her. While dated, Sports Illustrated speculated in 1998 that there are more children sired out of wedlock by NBA players than players in the league. Even the Paralympics has had athletes suspended and disqualified for illegal doping. Then there is the case of American football players. Presently the NFL is investigating brain injury and shortened life spans due to those injuries because of the violent collisions. This is on top of the debilitating arthritis and other problems common in retired players. I have a very difficult time seeing any virtue in killing oneself over a game. Perhaps it is time to reclaim the word great.