Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Tiger will rise again

Eldrick “Tiger” Woods was the highest-paid professional athlete in 2008. He has won 14 professional major golf championships, 71 PGA Tour events and 16 World Golf Championships. He has held the number-one position in the world rankings for the most consecutive weeks and for the greatest total number of weeks. He has been awarded PGA Player of the Year a record 10 times. He is only 34 years old in a sport that regularly includes those that are well into their 50s. And he wasn’t just the face of golf: he was its head, its hands, its torso, its legs, its feet, its opposable thumbs. He was golf.

On a cultural level, he was one of the most celebrated sports icons in history. No athlete since Michael Jordan had been so unequivocally the face of not only his own sport, but of the sporting world. He was put on a pedestal that few people: let alone athletes: ever reach. Being half Asian, a quarter African American, one-eighth Native American and one-eighth Dutch, he was also a social phenomenon: an unquestionably marvelous product of America and the embodiment of what America represents. But that was then.

On Feb. 19, 2010, Tiger delivered a televised speech from the PGA Tour headquarters in Florida, apologizing for his “transgressions,” or more plainly, his “rampant infidelity.” Since his marriage to Elin Nordegren, a former Swedish model, in November of 2003, Tiger allegedly had affairs with 14 different women, some of which lasted over two and a half years. Augmenting the inherent despicability of his actions, Tiger’s adulterous texts and phone calls, as well as interviews with his mistresses have pervaded the media world. Ultimately what we have found is that one of the most celebrated cultural icons of our time has been totally obliterated.

It shouldn’t be overly shocking that Tiger Woods (like so many other athletes and celebrities) is guilty of marital infidelity. After all, he’s an unbelievably prominent athlete, he spends much of the year touring away from his family and he’s been elevated to an almost God-like status in this country since his late teens. Still, this scandal is relatively earth shattering in that it surfaced and altered public perceptions regarding Tiger so abruptly. Over the years, Jordan revealed himself to be an egomaniacal, vindictive man with a gambling problem (among other things). However, his negative traits appeared rather gradually and, in some cases, not until after he retired from the NBA. On the other hand, Tiger went from being viewed as a respectable and worthy role model to an adulterer and depraved sex addict in a matter of days.

Is there really any precedence for something like this? Let’s list some of the greatest cultural icons of the last century or so: JFK, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Dean, Michael Jackson, Madonna. Not too surprisingly, all of them had pretty publicized vices and issues, some of them even sharing the same vice as Tiger Woods. But never have those vices and issues been so ubiquitously symbolized in society as the text messages, voice mails and cell phone IDs that damned Tiger. A cultural icon’s own text messages from his cellular phone becoming the symbols of his demise? The exponentially increasing speed and ever-expansive process of accessing and spreading information in today’s cultural framework has finally culminated in becoming the very antagonist to Tiger’s attempt to manufacture and carefully construct his image.

All of a sudden the image he projected throughout his career suddenly proved to be nothing more than a carefully crafted illusion. While some have referred to Tiger’s apology as sincere, we see it as little more than a calculated attempt to rebuild this tarnished image. His audience was carefully selected: only few hand-picked reporters were allowed witness his speech live: he showed astonishingly little emotion and he refused to answer questions. Obviously, it was enough for some, but his return to the PGA Tour: whenever it is: will undoubtedly be met with a range of emotions. The question is, “What does this all mean for golf’s future?”

Golf without Tiger is almost obsolete in mainstream America. When Tiger’s epic final round in the U.S. Open in 2008 was broadcast on NBC, it bested Game Five of the NBA Finals in the TV ratings, which was airing on competing station, ABC. Immediately following his U.S. Open victory, Tiger underwent season-ending knee surgery and television ratings subsequently plummeted. No one wants to see Padraig Harrington and Kenny Perry play golf. Even golfers such as Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are only quasi-stars at all because they occasionally compete with Tiger.

Ever since he stormed onto the professional golf scene with his dominating victory at the 1997 Masters, golf has been viewed in terms of Tiger. Y.E. Yang’s victory in the 2009 PGA Championship did not captivate the nation’s attention in and of itself; the central storyline was not that Yang won, but that he did so as the David to Tiger’s usually insurmountable Goliath. Whether Tiger wins or loses, the golf world and the media that covers it unswervingly revolve around his status as the sport’s unquestioned alpha dog, as its only player who figures into the pantheon of American sports legends.

For all of the damage his transgressions have caused to his previously untarnished reputation, golf needs him to return and to resume his previous dominance. Most sports fans will never view Tiger as they did before and some will never forgive him. However, Tiger’s personal life only receives the scrutiny that it does because his skills as a golfer are so otherworldly. We are a forgiving people and our guess is that returning and winning some tournaments will do more to remind the American public why they fell in love with Tiger than a staged apology ever could. That doesn’t negate his guilt; it’s just the way our sports culture works. We are predisposed to hope for the fallen sports hero to rise and mesmerize us as he did before.

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