The truth is I liked Tiger too much. I liked his youth, his ethnicity, his arrogance. Call me one who simply favors a front-runner, but I like excellence. At the least, I admire dominant athletes and teams as much as I hate them.
Eventually, cheering for underdogs and admiring the highest and the best will conflict. None of us is consistent in this. Lucky for us, Woods resolved the tension. He’s great, but not untouchable. Rooting against Tiger never felt contrarian; rooting for him never felt like a bandwagon. His high tide really did raise all boats, and no one with even a friendly respect for the game disdains his impact.
But let’s cut the crap: Tiger is not, was not, and will not be the best person on the course. As much as we may know that and profess to see no correlation between fame or skill and morality, we were still stunned. Little worlds shattered all over the place as the long reverenced idol fell.
It’s the same feeling I got when watching Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction speech: I realized I didn’t want to “Be Like Mike” at all. I don’t make a point to befriend hypercompetitive bullies with critical streaks.
But in the Church of Sports, we make exceptions. Tiger was on his way until this scandal.
Rather than question the whole enterprise of elevating athletes to the status of moral exemplars, we saw a spate of articles wondering if all our idols would eventually fall. Does Peyton Manning have a secret life? Is Albert Pujols using PED?
This phenomenon highlights an odd element in our present society: as we are becoming more privately immoral — or at least our collective indiscretions are more known — we are becoming more publicly puritanical. That is rather silly, don’t you think? I don’t recall reading that the public or the press cared about Ali’s serial infidelity.
And that reminds me to say that those two men and their respective comebacks aren’t remotely similar. Ali’s exile was probably unjust; Tiger’s was self-imposed. And if Woods really is about the business of saving his marriage, that is commendable.
Nevertheless, that does not guarantee him a comeback ala Ali. Most of Ali’s late and post-career adulation was a transmuted public apology to him. Tiger gets no such benefit. For one thing, to fall from grace and have an undimmed star takes an interesting and charismatic personality. Nothing personal, but outside of the golf itself, Tiger lacks this. Bill Simmons is right about that.
I don’t mind if Tiger wins, but he needs to take Gary Player out to lunch. Maybe he should do it a number of times. Throw in John Stockton and David Robinson. Once-dominant athletes who are good people would be good for him. Perhaps he thought one couldn’t be both. Perhaps he thought Charles Barkley had been right.
We’ll get our Tiger back. The question is, will he find himself?
Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor to and senior sports writer for Open for Business.