Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sports Figures and Apologies

All the big news of the day, it would seem, revolves around Tiger Woods’ first public appearance since the very strange events that took place on Thanksgiving evening last year.  His statement was carried on most of the major networks, including, of course, ESPN, ESPN2, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, and FOX News.

Tiger Woods is one of the most popular sports figures in the country, if not the world.  Woods is to golf what Michael Jordan is to basketball, or possibly Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt are to NASCAR.  For fans of golf, and even for those who aren’t, Tiger Woods’ name is known in pretty much any household which also contains a television.

I’m not going to analyze Tiger’s apology to his friends here.  He apologized to his friends and his family, and he also mentioned regret that he had let down his fans.  I thought he seemed pretty sincere about that, and I am more than willing to let it go at that.

The fact is, Tiger Woods doesn’t owe me an apology for anything.  Chances are, he doesn’t owe you an apology either.  My life has not changed in any way because Tiger carried on with women to which he was not married.  That’s not my concern.  I miss seeing Tiger Woods playing golf, because he is obviously one of the best players in the world,  but what he does off the golf course doesn’t really matter to me.

To people with kids who might be or have been fans of Tiger Woods, I can understand your concerns, and perhaps Tiger’s apology will help your child understand that it’s OK to admire great athletes, but sometimes even the rich and famous have problems away from the cameras.  Athletes may be the very best in their sport, but they might be a lousy father, or mother, or husband or wife.  Celebrity in and of itself only means that someone has been noticed, and the closer we look at people who’ve grabbed our attention, the more likely that some unsavory character flaws will emerge.

Jeff Gordon went though a somewhat similar event a few years ago.  Jeff and Brooke Gordon seemed to be the perfect couple.  They had plenty of fame, plenty of money, and somewhere, something went wrong.  NASCAR fans, whether they were Gordon fans or not, were somewhat shocked when all the allegations were flying.  The details of what broke up the marriage are not known by but a few people, but obviously Jeff Gordon showed that he was indeed human, and even Jeff Gordon can make mistakes.  Gordon now is remarried and has a child and another on the way, and the breakup with Brooke seems like it took place a million years ago to most fans.

Gordon’s situation got much less universal attention than Tiger Woods’ current mess, but in the NASCAR world, the Jeff and Brooke show was huge news at the time.  Most of us who have been fans for more than a few years remember it, but I doubt that few people who were Jeff Gordon fans before the breakup with Brooke jumped ship.  Whether that will be the same with Tiger Woods, only time will tell.

Tiger Woods should apologize to his family and his friends, and maybe even his sponsors, because they are the people he really let down.  As a casual fan of golf, my only thought was that golf will be less interesting if Tiger isn’t around for the tournaments.  The fact that he had so many affairs was surprising to me, but at the same time, I doubt it will change my opinion of his talents as a golfer.

Parents, if you’re offended by what Tiger Woods did, that’s fine.  If you’re worried that your kids will be adversely effected by Woods’ actions, then explain to them that Tiger is human, and he did wrong.  Don’t count on your kids finding role models for life on television.  Why not try to be the life role model for your kids?  So, you can’t play sports.  So what?  You do the right thing, your kids will notice, and hopefully they will decide to be like you and do the right thing when they are adults.

If your kid wants to be a great athlete, by all means show him the best and let him or her watch and learn.  If your kid wants to be a great golfer, show them tapes of Tiger Woods.  If your kid wants to be a great basketball player, she them tapes of Michael Jordan when he played for the Bulls, or UNC.  If your kid wants to be a great stock car driver, show them tapes of Petty, and Earnhardt, of Pearson, of Allison, of Yarborough, of yes, even Johnson, Gordon, Stewart, or whomever you consider to be a great driver.

Please remember that however great your favorite athlete is when he’s playing his game, he might not be so great away from the field or the track.  If your favorite athlete screws up in his personal life, remember, that ought to be personal.  Just because a guy has a zillion dollars, it doesn’t mean that he’s better than you or me, at least on a personal level.

We are all, each and every one of us, human.  Or at least you are.  I will reserve the right to reveal my true identity later!

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