We were sold a myth. Instead all we got was a well-worn cliché: Another brilliant sportsperson whose real life doesn’t even come close to resembling the myth.
We all bought it. Swallowed it whole and were hungry for more. We even helped perpetuate it. We took pride that our hero was a cut or three above other sporting heroes. We were willing to forgive the F-bombs, the occasional sulkiness and the club throwing as part of the pressure that came with being the best.
We scoffed at other sports, where scandal and salaciousness seem to come as part of the package. Our sport was above that. The honorable game.
What saps we are.
Tiger Woods isn’t the first sportsperson to come crashing off his pedestal. There have been plenty before him who turned out to have the same weaknesses as the rest of us. There will be more after him, too.
The list goes all the way back to Shoeless Joe Jackson and beyond. (Somewhere there’s a child saying to himself, “Say it ain’t true, Tiger!”)
The difference between Woods and all the other athletes who made mistakes before him is that Tiger has fallen from a far greater height. His “transgressions” seem worse.
The myth makers share in the responsibility for that.
Tiger’s slide down the ladder of respectability is greater because of the perfection myth we were peddled. His handlers at IMG cosseted him, protected him and built up an aura around him that was almost Hoganesque.
IMG helped to create the image of the perfect athlete who would go to extremes for his sport. They created an aura and built a wall to keep the public out. The problem with walls is that we either want to climb on top and peer over or tear them down altogether.
Little did we think that Tiger would take his own wrecking ball to the very foundations of the battlements that kept the public out. We now know pieces of what was behind the wall. It appears to be a troubling scene, different than any of us could have imagined.
It sure isn’t pretty, and it certainly isn’t the picture we were painted.
And we bought it, hook, line and sinker. We might still be buying it, too, had Tiger not crashed into a fire hydrant and a tree early one morning two weeks ago.
The situation is reminiscent of a character discussing the death of the Old West in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” The man says, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
No doubt Tiger will go down in the annals of sporting history as yet another “flawed genius.” We’ve applied the flawed genius argument to several others in our own sport. It goes something like this: Take away John Daly’s wild side and he would be a different person. He wouldn’t have won two majors, and he wouldn’t be such a fan favorite.
The flawed genius argument is, well … flawed. It absolves the superstar of the hurt he has caused others.
Watch, though. Tiger’s transgressions will become part of the myth. A majority of sports stars who fall from grace eventually rebound. We now think of athletes who have fallen before us – the Kobe Bryants, the David Beckhams – as great sportsmen, not as failed human beings. No doubt it will be the same for Tiger.
There will be the usual mea culpa, the pleading to fans for another chance, the declaration that he is only human.
“I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person,” he wrote in his statement on his Web site Friday evening.
He’ll face cameras one day, and there might even be tears. There’s nothing we like more than a fallen hero rising up from adversity to conquer the world.
Watch for the image makers to reconstruct the myth. Rest assured, there’s a large team working on it right now.
Surely we won’t get fooled again, will we?