Thursday, 8 April 2010

Why Tiger's Mirror Image Causes Trouble For Us All

By Shane Thomas

In a few hours time, Tiger Woods will tee-off at The Masters in Augusta, Georgia. It has been five months since he has swung a golf club competitively. I won't go into all the why's and wherefores as I'm pretty sure every person, whether they like golf or not are aware of the circumstances. This is not a Masters preview. This is me trying to cut through the furore surrounding the man.

Over the past five months, the glare that Tiger has been under has been akin to that of a leading political figure. Indeed, the media in America have predicted that his tee-off will be the nation's biggest televisual event - with the one exception of President Obama's inauguration. As I type Sky Sports News are in conversation with one of their correspondents about this very matter.

Why is this? Why does a man's personal failings warrant such intense attention? What correlation does this have towards what he does for a living? Why the fascination with the minutiae that makes the man?

The fact is that sport is one of those things - like television, films and music - that is unimportant but means so much to many people. And for those who care about it, it goes beyond just admiring someone's athletic ability. If it was only about who could run the faster, jump the higher, throw the faster or kick with the greater accuracy, sport would never garner the attention that it does.

Barring politics, sport is the world's greatest reality TV show. To borrow a phrase "sport doesn't build character, it reveals it". Employ any spin doctor you want - and some have tried - but when you're being watched by thousands in a stadium and millions more on television, the world will see what quality you have or don't have. Tiger never needed a hype machine to show that he's one of the best golfers of all time, no great sportsperson does. In the figurative swimming pool of sport there is no shallow end. At the top level you learn to swim, and you learn quick, otherwise you'll disappear without trace and nobody will notice, much less care.

But that doesn't still doesn't get to why there's so much interest in Tiger this week. It seems to me that Tiger has become something of a test case, and the next four days could leave a permanent mark on the world of sport.

Here's the rub, our sportspeople aren't out there simply trying to succeed for themselves. They may have our support, we may pay to see them live, may buy a shirt with their name on the back, may purchase any merchandise that they endorse and will defend them to the hilt when someone dares disparage them in the pub. But it comes at a price. In return for our unwavering support we expect not only a high standard of sporting performance but an acceptable - if not high - level of personal standards too.

My reasoning was for this was formed upon reading the articles of the great Simon Barnes (I highly recommend you check out his work in The Times). He explained that when we love a sportsperson they represent us in their most memorable moments. When Paul Gascoigne cried in the 1990 World Cup, we all cried. When Michael Owen scored that glorious goal against Argentina eight years later, we all scored, the same can be said for Andrew Flintoff in the 2005 Ashes or Jonny Wilkinson when he kicked England to Rugby World Cup glory in 2003. They do the things that we can't, but do them for us, "Go on Jonny, do it for England!"

To take this further, I think to an extent we like to see ourselves in our sporting heroes. It's a bit like the James Bond ideal of "men want to be him, women want to bed him". How often have you heard people say, "I really like that Ricky Hatton, he's the kind of guy you could go and get drunk with". However, I feel that this mirror image is not only unhealthy but helps no-one in the long run.

The fact is that the physical and mental demands of a top sportsperson are huge. They may not be doing anything important but it doesn't change the amount of work that's involved in order to succeed. Are they also expected to set an example for us all? I worry for any society that looks to anyone that plays a game for a living for moral guidance. And the fact remains that certain members of society do prize one's personality as highly as their sporting prowess. How else can the likes of Ricky Hatton and Andrew Flintoff still be highly thought of while people such as Andy Murray and Paula Radcliffe spend as much of their time being mocked as they are praised.

Now I know that this isn't representative of everyone. There are some who can separate the sport from the individual. After all, if one of your work colleagues did something morally questionable you'd be entitled to think less of them but would it be fair for you to verbally abuse them while they were at work? And yet we have no problem when it happens to John Terry or Ashley Cole. What right do we have to judge them as people, what right do we have to make moral pronouncements on anyone for that matter? Do you know them personally? No? Then leave them to their jobs and put the pitchforks away. And please spare me the, "Well I pay my money, I can say what I like". No you can't, it doesn't give you the right to shout abuse, would you get away with doing that out on the street? By all means disapprove, but do so in dignified silence. Anything else shows as much class as those troglodyte members of the 'Tea Party' over in America.

This doesn't absolve the aforementioned from responsibility for their actions. But that's a matter for the people involved. Tiger hasn't betrayed you and John Terry hasn't let you down, the only people who should feel short-changed are their friends and family.

As for the rest of us, if you feel like tuning off or being outraged when Tiger tees-off, just stop and ask yourself why. What wrong was committed against you? If you're looking for someone to be your representative look to your local MP, there's an election coming up you know.

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