Tiger Woods: The Last Role Model
I think it may be time to rethink this whole role model concept. Having earned more than a billion dollars on the strength of his golf game, Tiger Woods was representative of something more than a golfer to many. Really?
I do not believe that Tiger Woods has destroyed his life nor do I believe that he has permanently damaged his pro golf career. However, there is no question in my mind, that both are in severe jeopardy. The most interesting development for me has been the reaction to this story that has been reverberating throughout the media and the public in general: surprise, disgust and condemnation.
Let’s briefly recap what has happened here in general terms. Some guy comes along, who you’ve never met, but who is really good at a particular sport. Miraculously, he becomes the stuff of American legend and is labeled “A Role Model”.
So let’s get this straight. This athlete develops a following of lots of adoring fans. Let’s say you are one of them. Then some corporation decides they can make more money by manipulating you and countless other the fans by adding the sports guy’s picture, image or logo to their product. After all, the guy is handsome and since he has lots of money, he has lots of beautiful girlfriends or maybe a beautiful wife. This only serves to further heighten the allure of his image. Then you go out and buy products, not from your role model, but from some corporation that is manipulating YOU, using the role models name or face.
What happens next? The sports guy does what they, sports guys, regularly do (not always, but regularly). They continue to make a lot of money from playing and they make a lot of money from endorsements. They also collect women like cuff links. They probably use and abuse drugs, performance enhancers and alcohol while they commit various crimes. They are above the law. When they do get caught, the first thing they are prone to do is to lie about it. At least, that’s the way it works from where I sit.
Then you, adoring fan that you are say you’re somehow disappointed. What? Why? All you have to do is run out and buy another brand. There are dozens of other sports role models out there for you to worship. The fact is that you won’t really know them any better than you did Tiger.
If nothing more comes of this latest public controversy, I sincerely hope that this irrational talk of role models is damaged or destroyed forever. At the very least, I hope that people will come to realize the danger and futility of channeling the personality or character of anyone. This doesn’t just include people you don’t really know, but particularly where the shiny images of the Princes of Sport are concerned. The concept of sports role models on its face is patently absurd. History has shown us again and again, that the one thing that we might regularly expect from sports figures and others in high profile positions within our society is disappointment.
The problem is that they are not role models, they are just people. People, can and do let themselves get out of control, out of balance. When we do get out of whack, any of us are capable of anything. This is no less so than the people we see and mock as they act out for us on Reality TV. The lives of high profile people as we see them are in truth nothing more than Reality TV. They let us see what they want us to see and they perform for our entertainment. That doesn’t change the fact that they have flaws. They hurt, bleed and suffer all measure of life’s challenges just like everyone else.
Tiger Woods has placed himself on center stage in America’s newest episode of Reality TV. What is equally sad and disappointing is the number of people who are shouting, as if they were on the Jerry Springer Show, like crazed buffoons. The more depraved and despicable the characterizations or behavior, the more insensitive and judgmental the raucous crowd of onlookers are morphing into. People who want to kick and punish Tiger Woods, or anyone, because society says it is ok to do so given the nature of the transgressions. It is somehow permissible and expected that we fuel the humiliation of others when they need help the most. This is the case even when they don’t know they need help or cannot find the strength to seek help.
I don’t keep any statistics on such things, but in my view the numbers of high profile people who stumble, embarrass or humiliate themselves publicly are quite substantial. This doesn’t mention the staggering numbers of couples and marriages in the United States which endure internal troubles stemming from, infidelity, substance abuse and violence, to name a few problem areas. These are the very same persistent problems that have repeatedly manifested themselves since the beginning of time. No matter how stringent the laws, no matter how harsh the penalties and no matter the culture, life has changed little.
People will not always conform to all social morays or continually meet the standards thrust upon them by friends, family or even an adoring public. Even when it appears that they do, one never knows if they are truly happy or if they are trapped in a living hell. The cloak of conformity and expectation is not always a comfortable one. This certainly seems true where American society is concerned. The well known statistics focused on couples, fidelity and divorce suggest that conformity or commitment is a very big problem which is evolving into a substantial question mark.
If this is the American Society we live in, why should we be surprised when anyone fails in their behavior or in their marriage, especially when they live in America? >gasp<
The slippery slope that Tiger Woods must now somehow navigate contains difficult contours that could be his total undoing, perhaps the most difficult contours he has ever faced or will ever face. Ironically, at the end of the day, his survival, both personally and professionally, will be dependent upon his selection and use of tools which are very familiar to him. These tools are dedication, focus and resolve.
Tiger Woods seems a bit lost, perhaps even severely troubled on some personal or emotional level. Keeping our lives in balance is not a simple undertaking. Those of us who prefer a truthful analysis, based on personal experiences, know well the possibility of vulnerabilities that may surface in our character or personality if we let them. It is very often the emotional impact of hurt, humiliation and failure which embed themselves in the psyche and serve as the stinging reminder to avoid future missteps or poor choices. It’s called life experience or growth.
All of the slogans that were once tributes to products and a sport legend are for now cocktail jokes. “Is it in you”, “Just do it”, “It’s in the hole”. If you dare, go ahead and laugh. You just may be laughing at yourself soon.
I remember a Tiger Woods ad from years ago, that in its simplicity, was a prophetic and accurate description of who we all are, as imperfect human beings. Many of you will recognize the truth when you hear it. The ad said simply: “I am Tiger Woods”.
L. A. Walker