Saturday, December 12, 2009

Understanding Tiger Woods, the golfer

US Sailors watch Tiger Woods hit a few golf balls during a demonstration in the hanger bay of the nuclear powered aircraft carrier war ship USS George Washington in the Arabian Gulf on March 3, 2004. Woods accompanied by Elin Nordegren, PGA player Mark O'Meara, and caddies Steve Williams and Greg Rita visited the Norfolk based carrier in the Arabian Gulf before participating in the European PGA Tour's Dubai Desert Classic. The George Washington Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Carrier Air Wing Seven (CVW-7) were deployed to the Arabian Gulf in support of operation in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom.

While gossip tabloids and the rest of the media are busy making big banner headlines on the US golfer Tiger Woods’ alleged linkups with high profile hookers who claim that he had shelled out sums like $60000 to cat around them, some reports suggested that the Woods may have left their plush Florida mansion. There were even speculations that Woods and his family were considering moving to Sweden where wife Elin Nordegren had recently purchased a mansion.

Meanwhile there were reports from London that Woods’ mother wants him to “face his demons” if he wants to steer clear off the current crisis. The Mirror reported quoting a source, “She fears for his mental and physical health and wants him to know she is here”. In the meanwhile, there are reports that lawyers of Woods have obtained a court injunction in the UK preventing certain information purportedly about him being published, granted by a judge at the High Court in London.

Also, according to reports, American golfer John Daly has hit out at his fellow professional golfers who have refused to support Tiger Woods during his current personal crisis. “I wish them (the Woods family) the best. I’m not too happy with what some players have said. Golf needs him. Tiger is the reason we’re playing for so much money.”

Meanwhile there were concerns appearing in the media about the woes of PGA that the scandal may cost it millions of dollars, as Woods’ alleged extra-marital affairs plus front page headlines bearing ‘steamy text messages are likely to compound both his and PGA’s problems’. At the Chevron World Challenge golf tournament on Sunday he was neither present nor there was a single commercial featuring Woods whose endorsements are major part of his estimated US$ 130 million earnings this year. Similarly, reports on Dec 9 said PepsiCo’s Gatorade drink, Tiger Focus, was cancelled.

However, it was nice to read that on Dec 12 Woods broke silence and said that he would take an indefinite break from the sport and apologized to his friends and family. “I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children. I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask for forgiveness. It may not be possible to repair the damage, but I want to do my best to try”, a statement published on Tiger Woods’ website said.

Seemingly, his silence and the ensuing scandal -- after he crashed his car yards away from his own home in Florida, hitting a fire hydrant and after that a tree -- threatened to tarnish the most lucrative brand in sports history. It was a public relations disaster serving only to feed gossip columns and websites, barely a day passing without a new alleged mistress emerging in his private life.

The scandal also threatened his sponsorship contacts running into several millions of dollars, as he is estimated to earn about US$ 100 million a year, woods being credited with the status of a rare sports personality to have crossed US$ 1 billion in career earnings. While his sponsors, reportedly were deeply concerned, his agents and advisors too were silent, possibly because the elusive Tiger was out-of-bounds. Having already won 14 international golf majors out of 71 professional titles, the world No 1 had ambitions to overtake the world record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

Instead of silence that bred more and more juicy stories concerning his involvement with no less than a dozen women, Woods should have gone on the lines of what John Daly said, “If I were him I’d go to Oprah, I would get on her show, tell the truth and it doesn’t matter what the media say anymore.”

Looking at the lives of some of the greatest celebrities in the sports world, there were alleged scandals surrounding many of the greats like Magic Johnson, Maradona, Shane Warne, Boris Becker and many more -- scandals linking them to women or unacceptable habits that the society tends to look down upon. All these go to show that celebrities, including sportspersons, too are vulnerable human beings and, as the fans and the sponsors expect, are not Gods. They too come across situations when they are overcome by temptations that are a part and parcel of celebrity lives. However, this is in no way to justify what Woods may have done in his personal life.

But the real life is far more complicated, unpredictable, and some of the most outstanding top achievers had private lives that don’t go well with the public concept of celebrity status. Arguably, there may not be even one celebrity who did not break the rules of societal morality and not indulged in immoral acts. However, like everyone else, they are responsible for breaking the norms of morality and have to pay the price, and Tiger Woods is no exception. But does it have to do anything with his ability as a sportsman? Essentially he became famous because of his outstanding skills as a golfer, not for other reasons. And perhaps, if Woods were just another person, without the celebrity aura surrounding him, this scandal would not have even found even a one-line mention in the media, even if he actually had out-of-marriage affairs with dozens of women a month. And none of the women who claim to have affairs with him would have come out so openly, if he was just another person.

So, let us look at what Tiger Woods contributed to the world as a sportsman, rather than waste several tons of newsprint on his personal life, and use millions of webpages on it.

Undoubtedly, Woods, who has become an international sporting icon since winning his first major in 1997 at the age of 21, has exceptional skills that are rare on sports fields, and one of the genuine sports greats to have walked the earth, having achieved the perfection he has exhibited on the golf courses across the world. It is his mastery of golf that made him an icon and a poster boy to millions. The present scandal in no way makes him a lesser golfer, though he has announced that he would be taking an indefinite break from golf. In the course of time, possibly, he may be forgiven for what he has confessed to, but it will be a great loss to sports if his active sporting years are wasted because of a scandal.

Also, let us not forget that Woods gave new meaning to golf that has now many millions of more fans than before Woods emerged on the golf courses! And the tabloids and other media that thrived on his personal life stories and sensational revelations from women might have earned more sales and advertising money than Woods and PGA loses!

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