Let the Tiger Woods saga serve as a warning to the next wave of athletes who seek to become bigger than the sport they play, the LeBron James’ of the world, who calculate every move they make in hopes of maintaining the squeaky clean image it takes to become a global icon.
You can’t be Bono when you act like Gene Simmons.
A story involving an athlete or any celebrity and an alleged mistress (or three) doesn’t normally become the most talked about story in the world. They’re not exactly rare. Besides, if you ask the average person, chances are they’ll say it all comes with the territory when you’re famous. It might not be right, but that’s just what happens. And don’t we have more important things to worry about?
Of course we do. But on the same day that our President announced he would be sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, the most-searched topic on the New York Times website was “Tiger Woods.” On Google’s list of hot trends for Tuesday, December 1st, Woods or names associated with the rumors circulating about Woods appeared six times before any mention of the military. So while it would be completely fitting for Sports Illustrated to file our infatuation with this story under its “This Week’s Sign of Apocalypse” headline, the fact remains, it does matter.
And that’s entirely because of what Tiger is supposed to represent. He’s portrayed as not somebody we should wish to be, but someone we should strive to be. Everyone knows his story. He came from that American Dream of a family, with the father who pushed him to be great and the mother who would have loved him no matter what. He’s the guy who made the very most of his god-given abilities, the kid who was famous by age three and a global icon by the time he turned 21. And he did it all while playing a game most people with his skin color will never have the chance to try.
All of those things are still true today. But now his image is taking a hit thanks to rumors about a mistress in New York and a cocktail waitress in Los Angeles and another woman in Vegas. But the public isn’t turning on Woods because of his alleged infidelity. We can handle that. It’s that we feel betrayed by someone we want to love.
By design, the man has lived in a bubble his entire public life. He declines most interviews, choosing to release statements on his website instead. He never takes a stance on any issue, be it large or small. And until now, he’s been far more likely to appear in the Wall Street Journal than in the National Enquirer. Put simple, he has acted more like a President than a famous athlete. And we’ve trusted him as such.
If these allegations prove true, Tiger has let us all down.
Never forget that Woods private nature was a page right out of Michael Jordan’s playbook. Jordan didn’t trust the media either. He had a very tight circle of friends. He always put endorsements ahead of world views. But everyone knew that you could always find MJ at the nearest casino with a couple women on each arm and a cigar in his mouth. We’ve never seen Tiger act like that, so we’ve always held him to an even higher standard.
That’s what the next generation of great athletes needs to keep in mind. We’re looking at you LeBron. You can’t deny us any access and party in excess and expect no one to notice. The truth is, we’d much rather see you turn up on Page Six than in the police blotter. What bothers us is when you pretend to be something you’re not.
That’s when the public turns on you.