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Goodness as a Prereq for Great?

 This whole Tiger bashing thing has never seemed quite on the mark for me, but until recently I really haven’t been able to put my finger on just why. Leave it to two of my touchstones, Crossfit and Sports Illustrated, to bring it into focus.

Selena Roberts opined this week that in some way Tiger is not worthy to take the crown from the great Jack Nicklaus, that his personal failures, his lack of “goodness” somehow disqualifies his results on his particular field of play. She goes even further, conflating l’affaire Tigre with the whole Barry Bonds/Mark McGuire debacle in MLB. Somehow Ms. Roberts is channeling Tiger’s aggrieved mistresses on our collective behalf, coming to the inevitable conclusion of the offensitive that Tiger’s behavior off the course nullifies his accomplishments on it.

Rubbish.

Unlike Mssrs. Bonds and McGuire there is no credible evidence that Tiger has altered the balance of the playing field through anything other than talent and effort. Not unlike our growing Crossfit competitions, it is nothing but the result that matters on the competitive pitch. Tiger has 14 majors, 70-something wins. Count ‘em.

Ms. Roberts commits the amateur’s error of amnesia, a particularly disappointing error given her experience and position as a national sportswriter. You see, most of the extraordinary athletic feats we extoll were performed by jerks, at least at the time of their performance. Raving egomaniacs, barely tolerated by their competitors, if tolerated at all. Think about it. Think about the signature athletic accomplishments in your lifetime and the lifetime just prior. Does anyone qualify as a genuinely nice guy? Happily married, kind to children and small animals alike? I’m sure there are others, but I come up with a very short list of Lou Gherig  and…Lou Gherig.

Jack Nicklaus? Ridiculed behind his back as “Fat Jack” by the jealous, and “Carnac” for his self-righteous know-it-allness. Possessed of an outsized ego and not really at all concerned with how he was perceived by anyone in his heyday, it was only at the end of his PGA career that the “Golden Bear” became teddy. Jack possessed that certain arrogance and dismissiveness of any and all not strictly necessary to achieve his lofty goals, similar in scope and kind to the various corporate chieftains of his generation (Se Welch, Jack, et al).

Babe Ruth? Come on. A veritable bull in the china shop of life, he mauled his way through the 30′s indulging appetites as outsized as Tiger’s. Openly jealous of the afore mentioned Lou Gherig, our collective memory of The Babe is air-brushed in the azure of ages past, just like Ms. Robers. Mickey Mantle? Spend a little time reading about his treatment of Roger Maris, or re-read Bouton’s “Ball Four”. The guy was a ton of fun, but virtuous is nowhere to be found in any true-to-life memoirs of The Mick.

Philanders, drunks and gluttons, or arrogant chieftains lording their superiority over their minions, the owners of most of our cherished athletic records are nearly uniformly men besotted with themselves, consumed in and by their pursuits, convinced only that they deserve whatever it is that they desire. At the very least they are possessed of overriding ego and an ability to channel their every effort in the pursuit of records, leaving in their wake a sea of collateral human damage.

Well, that…that…that just seems so WRONG. They don’t deserve our support, our worship. They should PAY for their misdeeds. Ah…here Ms. Roberts gets it just a little more right. They do, indeed, pay for being miscreants off the field, at least nowadays they do. Kobe loses millions in endorsements for taking liberties with one who was unwilling. Barry Bonds makes nary a cent off the field, and hasn’t since long before his hat size grew.  Mark McGuire is driven underground for YEARS after his retirement, cut off from both the succor of adoration that might come to the clean holder of a cherished record, and just as completely shut out of the riches that such adulation would bring. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe Louis and others in that era largely escaped this fate because of a fawning media who protected them. Ms. Roberts is quite right to decline that role, and quite right to unravel the tightly woven tale of Tiger that allowed him to accrue his nearly obscene off-the-course riches.

But “goodness” as a pre-req for greatness as regards epic athletic feats and achievement? Nonsense. It’s still exactly 100M, and it will remain so whether or not Usain Bolt becomes a bonehead. A home run is still over the wall, whether it’s hit by The Mick or Junior. We shouldn’t care where Joe Willie spent the night before as long as he beats the Colts the day after. We are indifferent that Lance Armstrong leaves everyone he touches with his bike in a flaming heap by the roadside, we simply yearn for Tour de Lance v 8.0.

Tiger will pay a price, has paid a price, for his behavior. He is down…what?…somewhere between $25 and $100 Million A YEAR in lost endorsemant money right now. You know, $25 Million here, $25 Million there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money, eh?

Me? I hope Tiger laps the field at both the British Open and the PGA. He plays golf by the same rules as Jack, Arnie, and Old Tom Morris; no gimmes, they still putt ‘em all out. Like Crossfit, every second counts, eh? Records are made to be broken and I want to experience the thrill of witnessing athletic feats of grandeur. I’ll decide whether or not to like Tiger based on his People Magazine profile, sure, and I’ll think about whether or not I buy something on his say-so a little more closely now, but I wanna see greatness on the golf course.

That’ll be good enough.

3 Responses to “Goodness as a Prereq for Great?”

  1. July 12th, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Apolloswabbie says:

    Bingo, this was a great read. It spawned what follows.

    As with politicians, we WANT to like sports ‘heroes.’ We easily confuse the way we identify with ‘our team’ with some perception that there’s an actual relationship through the practice of ‘fandom.’ I was flying in combat with a crew. A pilot crewmate threatened to beat up (jokingly?) a fellow warrior over his negative comments about Ozzie Osbourne; that’s right, he was saying “I’ll verbally intimidate a person who works to keep my miserable body intact in combat to show my loyalty to a man I’ve never met- a man who cares not one whit whether I live or die.”

    How does this happen? In what way did it become functional for humans to so easily be seduced by their ‘identification’ with rock stars, sports players, politicians and religious leaders? The process is so ubiquitous that it must have served human survival well over millions of years. Is it nothing more than an extension of tribalism, that psycho-social process whereby I team up with my brother to fight my father, my family to fight our relatives, our relatives to fight any other family, those in my town to fight any other town, etc etc etc? That’s my best guess. IOW, the ability to form these pseudo bonds enabled us to set aside our own needs long enough to ‘team up with the tribe’ and thus, increase the chances of our progeny living long enough to render us biologically irrelevant. The remnant of that today is that millions of us spend life energy wondering what kind of people this or that sports hero are. We actually care “what they are like”. Some people seem to care more about sports/political/music/movie stars than about their kids, parents or spouses – I remember seeing video coverage of some poor woman who cried for three days in her bedroom when that famous race car driver crashed and died. She’d never even met the man. Wow.

    In any event, I watch sports differently these days. I may seccumb to the pseudo-relationship of fandom as I cheer the Crimson Tide, but only with the knowledge that I’m choosing a delusion for entertainment and distraction. There’s a moment of delight, of joy, of immense satisfaction when I can watch a player on ‘my’ team execute his role with perfection, with surreal ability, or with simple gritty determination; and one of the prerequisites for the experience is ‘caring’ which team wins the contest. I “wanna see greatness” on the gridiron.

    My kids enjoy participating in ‘fandom’ as much as I did as a kid, and we all enjoy participating together. I’m not sure it’s the best choice for us or our lives. It may just be a waste of time and energy. For now, I’ll take the good with the bad and I’ll be cheering for the Tide in September with the same deluded-enjoyment I’ve always had; but with no mis-perception that any of the players are any better, or any worse, people than Tiger is. I hope for their sake they aspire to learn from Tiger’s mistakes.

    FWIW, IMHO, Tiger has “paid” with more than just dollars. The hallmark of obsessive compulsive behaviors is the lack of joy in the activity. He was taken by an illusion, he was had by mis-perceiving the illness of others as ‘having it all’, he fell for the big stage equivalent of a parlor trick. He was seduced by the illusion of his own significance. He sold out in order to consort with sell outs. There’s every reason to believe that Tiger knows he betrayed everything he would like to stand for, has undermined every example he would like to be able to offer to his children, and did so to get the equivalent of a 400 yard rive into a water hazard. He paid. He’s paying. He may also gain something invaluable from it all, learn something he may not have been able to learn any other way. I hope he does(I hope we all do, we’ve made and make similar mistakes on our own smaller stages). He paid for the lesson.

  2. July 12th, 2010 at 11:50 am

    darrellwhite says:

    Paul, love the comment. Thanks for that.

  3. July 14th, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Susannah Janos says:

    One may sooner fall than rise. — Thomas Draxe

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