In an essay on Rush Limbaugh I stated,
“I like my coffee black and my NFL football straight.”
This was a send up on Joe Namath’s quip “I like my women blond and my Johnny Walker Red.” I almost never care or want to know anything about an athlete’s personal life, political opinions, peccadilloes, or anything beyond their contribution to winning the contest. It simply gets in the way of enjoying the sport. Athletes compete to win. Fans enjoy competition and gravitate toward those who win. This is why we watch sports. So I try to tune this other stuff out.
Sometimes you cannot. An extreme example is Michael Vick. In his “personal life,” he liked to kill dogs. Vick was one of the 3 most popular players in the NFL prior to being caught as the kingpin of dog fighting. I cannot watch Vick. He can apologize from now until doomsday but I will not watch him (accept, perhaps, to see him lose.) Interestingly, athletes have not received much attention from the sports press for extramarital affairs. It does not show up on the radar screen like steroid use, gambling, off field violence etc. Athletes are different than politicians in that sense. Super Bowl QB, Ben Rothlisberger, was even accused of sexual assault this summer, and it was a background story at best.
So why is the Tiger Woods story generating such heat? He may be the greatest athlete relative to his own sport in history. He is also a cultural figure, not merely a sports figure. His relationship with his father, in particular, has shaped our image of Woods as a strong “family values” person. I think if the story had been only what the National Enquirer had written, he might have skated by. But Elin Woods was not going quiet into the good night. Most people heard about the car accident before they knew of the Enquire article. Everything about the car accident story was bizarre in its own right. The combination was deadly.
All Tiger fans feel deflated, even me. We loved everything about the guy. As my wife –who is not a sports fan at all — said, “I am so disappointed.” Obviously, he is a different person than we thought. It is kind of a bummer. A few people even have tried to create a “personal is the political” gender story out of this. Hanna Rosin threw down the gauntlet with a self contradictory piece about gender-neutral domestic violence laws.
Others talk about how poorly Tiger has “handled” the story. What’s there to handle? He got caught cheating on his wife in front of the whole world. Both he and Elin feel humiliated, for different reasons of course. The last thing I want to see is some Mark Sanford style public apology.
Woods is desperately trying to prevent any economic bleeding. It all seems pretty cold. The Chicago Tribune reported that Elin’s prenuptial agreement was rewritten to pay her an additional $55-80 million if she can hang on for 2-7 more years. They have let it be known that they are seeing a counselor “several times a day” at their home. The self described “advocate of family rights and feminist causes,” Gloria Allred, has suddenly silenced her client, Rachel Uchitel. The speculation is Uchitel will receive a big payment. There may be a flock of others ready to be quiet if they can get in on the action. Most of all, he has likely been on the phone with sponsors. Neither he nor they want this gravy train to go dry. There is a methodical “Tiger-ness” to it all.
He missed his own tournament this week, “due to injuries from the car crash.” Given the circumstances, everyone is probably glad. At some point he will face the public. None of us know, or have the right to know, what is really going on between he and Elin. We do have a right to not watch him or buy his sponsors’ products.
But ultimately, I am true to my sports principles. I will continue to watch with interest as Woods tries to break Jack’s Majors record, although initially — maybe — with less fervor. Certainly I’ve rooted for more adulterers than I will ever know (or want to know) in sports. I have definitely bought their records/CDs and watched their movies. Why would I stop now? When it comes to sports, I still like my coffee black and my PGA Golf straight.