Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tiger's Talk

A lot was made over Tiger’s mea culpa this past Friday. Some PGA players were upset at the timing, since it took place on during the Accenture Match Play Championship. People speculated that Tiger timed his press conference to get back at Accenture for dropping him as a sponsor. PGA officials however, have stated that they gave Tiger clearance for the press conference and granted him access to their facilities to conduct his public engagement.

Let’s be honest, Ernie Els can complain all he wants but the fact remains that the PGA is a shadow of what itself without Tiger. Since Tiger joined the PGA, purses have tripled, mediocre golfers are getting noticed and sponsorship money is at an all time high. Rocco Mediate is still doing interviews because his greatest achievement as a golfer is LOSING to Tiger Woods. Golf has become much more popular with a much younger crowd. That’s because of Tiger Woods. So back off and let the guy speak—it doesn’t matter if it’s during the final round of the Masters--he’s only been putting food on your table for the last 13 years.

Even if Tiger’s timing was vindictive, so what? Tiger is bigger than any non-major event on the tour. This is clear when you look at the attendance of any non-major event. Patron Passes sell out when Tiger confirms his participation. He’s like an instant cash infusion. Last weekend’s event was marginalized because Tiger wasn’t playing, his press conference actually drew more attention to the event because news crews wanted the reaction from other players. Ernie Els should be thanking him because if not for Tiger nobody would have put a microphone in front of his face.

Some people think Tiger’s response was insincere. He read a statement and didn’t speak from the heart. So? Tiger is not a person anymore, he is a corporation. Tiger can’t afford to speak from the heart because he is responsible for an enterprise that is worth more than a billion dollars. Corporations hire PR firms to craft statements, that’s what Tiger did.

People have tried to compare Tiger’s exploits to those experienced by other athletes. The problem is, there’s no comparison. A friend asked me what people would have thought if another golfer had done the same thing. I told him they wouldn’t have thought anything because people don’t care about other golfers. Tiger’s extramarital adventures are bigger news then Bill Clinton’s office BJ from Monica Lewinsky.

Tiger Woods is the biggest name in sports, which is amazing because he plays a sport few people find interesting. Tiger is bigger than the NHL or the NBA, which is why his affair(s), that doesn’t include criminal charges, is bigger news than Kobe Bryant’s. Granted, the allegations against Kobe were false but Kobe didn’t take time away from the game. He might have missed a start or two, but he didn’t take a leave of absence and enter rehab. Koba apologized to his fans and sponsors, bought his wife a big diamond ring and moved on. He endured a season’s worth of consternation from some fans, but he wasn’t taken to task the way Tiger has been.

Tiger’s demise is bigger news than Michael Vick, who actually committed crimes. He did Federal time and could very well be starting at QB for an NFL team next year.

Tiger didn’t break any laws. Forget about the petty traffic violations, nobody in their right mind thinks anything of that. People like to speculate as to what really happened, but Tiger’s not talking. Did Elin take after him with a sand wedge? Maybe, but that’s really between them. The cops seem satisfied with issuing a citation and hitting Tiger up for the cost to repair the damage. No big deal.

Ultimately Tiger cheated on his wife. He didn’t hurt anybody else. The women he slept with knew who he was and knew that he was married. They were using him as much as—prehaps even more than—he was using them. Tiger wanted sex, they wanted money, fame or both. He doesn’t owe any of them an apology. He doesn’t owe his fans an apology. He only has to make amends with his wife.

Tiger never cultivated an image. He was always a robotic prick who wanted to win. His focus on the task at hand caused him to be less than engaging with fans in the gallery. If things weren’t going well he could become surly and he was known for flinging around some harsh language. Of course anybody who has golfed will tell you that the most commonly heard four letter word shouted on the course is not ‘fore’ but it tends to follw a shot as well and it also starts with the letter ‘f”. To be honest, club throwing and cursing is all too common a sight on a golf course. It’s just that Tiger tends to be on camera more than any other golfer.

Because Tiger tends to be so robotic, people created an image for him. We assumed that he was so dedicated to golf that there wasn’t much off the course that brought him pleasure. We didn’t see him yucking it up with celebrities or clowning around on Saturday Night Live like Peyton Manning, but even though Tiger never tipped us off to his sexual transgressions, he also never gave us any reason to assume he was a boy scout. Tiger failed to live up to our expectations, but why did we have those expectations? What did Tiger do to make us assume he was a saint?

It’s not like Steve Garvey who wholeheartedly embraced his “Mr. Clean” persona, even though he was cheating on his wife. A lot. It’s also not like John Edwards who presented himself as a loving husband standing by his wife’s side while she battled cancer only to maintain an child-bearing affair with a tasty blonde. Tiger always kept his personal life under wraps and he never tried to sell us a persona. He always comes across as stiff and robotic.

Of course now people are questioning his sincerity. They aren’t buying Tiger’s apology. He let his lawyers write a statement and then he read it before a carefully selected audience that was not allowed to ask him any questions. How dare he?

But who is Tiger supposed to answer to? His sponsors have a choice, they can cut ties with him and find somebody who fits their image. Tiger’s fans have a choice as well, they can hop on the Mickelson bandwagon and cheer while Phil fights to keep his man boobs from chafing. The only people Tiger has to face are those he hurt. His wife and his family get to judge him. They’ll determine whether or not he’s sincere.

If Tiger’s putting on an act, it’s not for us it’s for them. He didn’t violate our trust. There’s no reason he can’t go back on the PGA tour tomorrow and win another PGA Player of the Year trophy. Moreover, he can do continue to cheat on his wife while he does it.

Tiger is a global icon. He transcends what we understand of fame. This guy is a golfer and he has made Michael Jordan look like a bush league side show. What sets Tiger apart is the way he has distanced himself from the spotlight. Tiger does commercials because he gets paid to. He does golf-oriented interviews because he has to, although it’s often lamented that he doesn’t do many golf-oriented interviews and is quick to retreat into seclusion. If Tiger wanted more exposure he could surely have it but Tiger opts to keep a pretty low profile. Yeah, we see a lot of Tiger, but how much of it is initiated by him? The guy seems genuinely uncomfortable with attention.

He also seems genuinely concerned about his marriage. Other celebrities don’t take time off to make things right, not unless a judge tells them to, anyway. Tiger is, for all intents and purposes, a rock star. He’s rich, he’s got millions of fans who go out of their way to see him perform and his wife is a bikini model. Is it any wonder that he’s a womanizer?

Tiger spoke of the temptations he faced and the sense of entitlement he felt. He worked hard all his life to be the best in the world. He deserved the spoils. Of course he didn’t think about how it would affect other people, that’s probably because those people aren’t in the gym at 6:00am working their butts off to be the best.

Were his actions selfish? Sure, but isn’t the culture of professional athleticism inherently selfish as well? The amount of work you have to put in to being the best at what you do demands it. Tiger was raised to put his success on the golf course first and a by product of that is not thinking about how your actions will affect others. Why do you think so many people of Tiger’s ilk--other professional athletes, actors, singers…politicians--seem more likely to cheat on their spouses?

Tiger’s sincerity is nobody’s concern but Elin’s. There’s no question that every word was measured but he doesn’t have to speak from the heart to anybody but the people he loves. His relationship with everybody else is strictly professional.

As great as Tiger is, there were a lot of people who hated him. Some hated him because of his race, others because he’s not friendly enough mostly he’s reviled because he’s so much better than everybody else. Those people are always going to find reasons to hate Tiger. That’s fine. It’s natural to create heroes and villains. Somebody has to be the bad guy and in every event Tiger plays he’s the favorite to win so there is never any shortage of underdogs. Tiger is the Darth Vader of the PGA . Fair enough, just don’t pretend that you started hating him after this story broke.

The majority of the people who liked Tiger will continue to like him. They’re pulling for him. If anything, the media frenzy around his private turmoil will probably rally more people around him. When he comes back the best golfer in the world will be an underdog. He’s been properly humiliated and people will cheer him on as he overcomes the consternation to win his first major since the fallout of his affairs.

Ultimately, Tiger Woods will be just fine. His marriage might fail and he could end up paying Canada’s GNP in child support for the next 17 years but he’s got plenty of money and the means to earn more. Other people will cheat on their wives and the tawdry tales of their elicit affairs might make headlines as well. People will remember that this is nothing new and they’ll remind themselves not to get personally invested in people they don’t know.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Super Bowl doesn't have Super Powers.

Every year during the Super Bowl fortnight a story emerges that makes me want to puke. I get angry to the point where I vow that I won’t watch the Super Bowl just because I’m tired of the hype. Among the greatest hits are The Kurt Warner Story, The Archie Manning Story, The Tom Brady Story and Those Crazy Chicago Bears. And let's not forget a cameo appearance by Brenda Warner's hideous fuzzy sweater and her trailer park mullet.

I was terrified that this year would force me to endure two weeks of a Brett Favre love fest. Sport reporters, who tend to be fat and old, love Brett Favre because he’s old. More than just being old, Favre looks it. He’s only 40 but his hair is gray and his stubble is almost white. After every game he looks like he got into a fight with a cotton candy machine. Favre’s toughness is well-documented and I wasn’t interested in hearing about it for two whole weeks. I’ve grown to dislike Favre a great deal. Besides being a big fat drama queen he is also a pretty lousy QB when the game is on the line. So no Brett Favre at the Super Bowl is a good thing.

Still, the media have done it again. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present: The Katrina Story.
In case you missed it, New Orleans was nailed by a hurricane back in 2005 and has been struggling mightily ever since. Moreover, the entire Gulf Coast has been struggling thanks to several storms that ravaged the area in 2005. Katrina gets the most attention because it scored a direct hit on The Big Easy. Even though FEMA would be quick to point out that they did more damage than that stupid fly by night storm. Sure, give credit to the shock and the awe, but who was there making sure aid and supplies didn't get to the people who needed it the most? FEMA. People don't dies from infection overnight, you know.

For some reason people seem to think that winning a Super Bowl is just what New Orleans needs to get back on its feet. To hear sports blabbermouths tell it, a win on Sunday will make everything better.

This is bullshit.

Winning the Super Bowl would be great for the Saints organization and would make Saints fans, who have never seen their team play in a Super Bowl, very happy. As a long suffering Browns fans who has reached a point where I’d just as soon see the Browns disbanded and everybody who works in the front office set on fire, I can appreciate this.

Beyond that a win would mean nothing. Even though the Saints have a lot of great fans, there are millions of people in the region that couldn’t care less. Literally. Thanks to decades of unadulterated suckiness by the Saints, New Orleans is home to a staggering number of Cowboys fans. Those people don’t care. They’re probably tired of hearing their friends and neighbors scream HOODAT every 3.65 seconds. The Gulf Coast is also home to people who grew up in other cities. So you’ve got a lot of people who are happy for the Saints but don’t really care who wins.

And all a Super Bowl win will do is make fans happy…for a little while. From what I’ve been able to gather that happiness doesn’t last nearly as long as you’d like it too. Steelers fans just watched their team snag a sixth Super Bowl ring last year and they’re already miserable because the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs. And that’s a great place to examine how much a Super Bowl really means. No city has more Super Bowl titles than Pittsburgh but does that make it a place you want to visit? Nope. How many Super Bowls has Pittsburgh hosted? That’d be zero. Are Steelers fans still ugly, unintelligent and more than a little malodorous? Sadly, yes. And the city still puts the Pit in the ‘burg, if you know what I’m saying. The reason you spell Pittsburgh with that “h” on the end is because most people say it with a resigned sigh at the end. So, Andy, where are you from? pittsburg-eh.

The only thing all those Super Bowl titles has given Pittsburgh is a false sense of accomplishment. Living in Ohio I can’t even tell you how many Pittsburgh fans love to brag about all those titles as if they had something to do with it. One guy I know will ask Bengals and Browns fans how many rings they have. Um, chief? The same number as you: none, remember? All you’ve ever done is wear another man’s jersey (like a cheerleader on game day) and wave a towel around like an idiot.

Am I jealous? Maybe a little. I really don’t know. None of the teams I root for have done anything while I’ve been around to see it so I don’t have any context. The only thing I do know for certain is that my life will remain unchanged. My happiness over my favorite team winning would subside the minute I realized that I’m still a loser with a boring job, a crappy car and ear hair like steel wool.

Even if the Browns did win a Super Bowl, once I got used to monkeys flying out of my butt, some idiot Steelers’ fan would go out of his way to point out that his team won six, even though he wasn’t around when they won four of them. Also he wouldn’t say his team won them, he would say “we” yet again implying that he played a role in this accomplishment. I’m sure the Rooney family will rush to correct their oversight in not including him in the parade.

New Orleans winning a Super Bowl would be a nice reward for the half dozen fans that used to sit through entire games wearing paper bags over their heads back in the 70s and 80s, but it’s not going to restore the 9th Ward to its pre-Katrina luster. Winning the Super Bowl would be a nice accomplishment for Drew Brees who was treated like some little dude with a freakish mole on his face by the San Diego Chargers (perhaps the most poorly run franchise with a winning record), but it’s not going to create any jobs in the region.

I’m tired of hearing about it. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, New Orleans will wake up on Monday morning and still have work to do. Nothing’s going to change. The Super Bowl isn’t that big.

Personally, I’m rooting for the Saints. Not because I think it would mean anything to New Orleans or because I think the fans deserve it. As a fan I can honestly admit that I don’t deserve a damned thing. I’m rooting for New Orelans because they’re the underdog. I’m rooting for them because I like Drew Brees and Darren Sharper. I’m rooting for the Saints because Will Smith and Malcolm Jenkins used to play for the Buckeyes. Even so, I’m not emotionally invested in this game. If the Colts win, I won’t mind. I think they’re a great team and I like watching them play. Peyton Manning is, without question, the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and he’s fun to watch.

That’s why, even though I’d like to see the Saints win, I don’t believe they will. The Saints will be overcome with emotion. Part of that will be due to the fact that everybody wants to make a big deal out of what this game means to New Orleans; part of that will be because the Saints are here for the first time. The Saints will also be overcome by an onslaught. Peyton Manning is great at exposing weaknesses in opposing defenses and New Orleans is full of holes.

The Saints play an aggressive brand of defense that requires a lot of pressure on the QB and a lot of gambles by the defensive backs…all of which are factors that play into Peyton Manning’s hand. He’ll read their coverages and use the opportunistic nature of the Saints’ secondary to his advantage. Drew Brees might keep it interesting for a while and the score will be high, but I see the Colts winning by 10 points.

And after everything is said and done the only thing that will be true about this Super Bowl is that it was only a game.