Tiger got it both ways

Posted on December 14, 2009
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People and serious media are engaging in debate and self-examination regarding all the hype about Tiger Woods’s fall from grace. Woods has admitted to infidelities and is in deep trouble with his wife and his sponsors.

Many people and many serious reporters feel that Tiger and his family ought to be left to sort out this crisis privately. As is so often the case, they are missing the point.

The actual point is that you cannot have it both ways. A star athlete or performer can have the tens of millions in annual income that come from marketing himself and courting the hype. You cannot have that without also having the hype and attention that accompanies a serious misstep.

Does the name Gary Trudeau ring a bell? Trudeau has been drawing the brilliantly perceptive political cartoon strip “Doonesbury,” since 1970, during the Vietnam war. He has won dozens of signficant awards including a Pulitzer, the highest US award in journalism, when he was 25. His alma mater, Yale awarded him an honorary doctorate when he was 27 and the strip was just six years old.

What is yet more astonishing is that one of his fictional characters, Joanie Caucus, received an honoray degree from the University of California at Berkely. Caucus was an early feminist in the strip.

I think it is likely more people know the name Doonesbury than know the name Garry Trudeau. Incidentally, he was born to Canadian parents and is distantly related to Pierre.

Trudeau has gone out of his way to avoid the limelight. He earns his living purely from his work. The cultivation of personality has not contributed to his annual income.

Tiger, on the other hand, earns perhaps 10% of his annual income from his performance on the golf course. His total income has been running about $100 million per year. There are millions of people who know Tiger’s face and have seen pictures of his yacht who have never set foot on a golf course or watched a game on TV.

If Garry Trudeau’s marriage blew up in some scandalous fashion, I think people and the media would, and should, let the family work it out more or less in private. There is no world-wide fairy tale about his life.

Trudeau once said that the US is the only country in which a person would be criticized, as he had been, for not engaging in the cultivation of personality.

You may remember widespread criticism of Pete Samprass, the dominant tennis player in the world for several years, for the same thing. He just played and won. He did not engage in screaming fits at umpires, clubbing with starlets or stupendous luxuries. The media and marketing world much preferred the more colourful John McEnroe who behaved like a two-year old on the court and off.

Tiger took the $90 million per from the celebrity media spotlight which his agents carefully developed and marketed. He, nor anyone else, can now complain that that same media and audience won’t instantly disappear.  He is such a famous person. His crash has been so spectacular that even people who never gave him a thought are intrigued.

It is like learning that Mother Teresa ran brothels on the side.

Live by the hype, die by the hype.

To conclude, we are all saddened when the media brings us the news that destroys our heroes. I maintain that the media has a responsibility to reveal the true character of false heroes.

It has a corresponding responsibility to discover and tell us about the real heroes among us. I saw a police cruiser camera clip last week showing three teenagers ganging up on and beating a policeman. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a VERY pregnant woman barreled in and tackled the teens. Her interference shocked and distracted the boys enough that the officer was able to regain his feet and the boys fled.

None of us know her name but I am grateful to the TV and print media that told us about her heroism.



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