Declawing Tiger

So I haven’t written recently about my sports writing book, in part because I’ve slowed down on reading it, in part because few of the essays I’ve read have seemed relevant. Until now. It’s called “The Chosen One,” written by Gary Smith in 1996. It’s the history of Tiger Woods and his family, set right after he’d won Sportsman of the Year from Sports Illustrated. The essay is written with such assurances, both by Tiger’s father in his speech and by Smith in his analysis. Tiger Woods will win. He will change the world. He will do things for golf, nay for humanity, that no man has ever done before. It all seems so naive now, so simply optimistic, in the face of everything that has happened to Tiger Woods.

Let me begin by saying that everything that has happened to Tiger Woods is his own fault. He chose to cheat on his wife. He chose to behave promiscuously while on the PGA tour. Whether or not the public response to Tiger has been warranted is another question, but there’s no pretending that Tiger is being victimized or targeted unfairly. Tori Spelling’s character on a previous year’s episode of “Smallville” said “the only thing people like more than building up heroes is tearing them down.” And that’s what’s happening here to Tiger Woods. He has been built up for the last 13 years since the time that article was written. Now he has been exposed, and it’s all being taken away from him: his family, his money, his endorsements, and now maybe even the game itself (Tiger has stated he wants to take a break from golf in light of all that’s come out recently).

It’s sad that the media foments a culture such as the one we have in the U.S. Nothing is private, not once you reach a certain level of stardom. At that point, every tiny aspect of your life falls under scrutiny, and the most well-hidden of secrets will inevitably be found and exposed to the world. And Tiger has certainly reached that level of celebrity, between his winning and his status as a media icon. So it’s inevitable in our society that he would eventually fall from grace. If for no other reason than athletic talent doesn’t last forever (although it lasts a lot longer in golf than in other sports), we knew at some point Tiger would go away, perhaps replaced by the next heir to the title of “greatest golfer in the world.”

But I never expected that fall to happen so fast and so hard. Tiger was a beloved sports icon. He didn’t have detractors the way most dynamic sports figures do. He may have behaved unprofessionally from time to time, but fan attendance at his games (and the age breakdown therein) would show that no one minded his occasional antics. In fact, they may have appreciated an athlete acting slightly more human on the golf course, reveling in success and showing frustration in defeat. Tiger did succeed in revolutionizing golf, just as his father and Gary Smith projected that he would. But for as legendary as his rise to prominence and power was, his fall will be that much more so. This is not over, not by a long shot, and when all is said and done we may be left with a barely more than a carcass which was once a powerful Tiger.

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