TIGER WOODS: OBSERVATIONS

I wasn’t going to go there, but since the issue has ignited a firestorm, it’s irresistible.

Tiger Woods has been one of my few living American heros. He still is.

Tiger cheated on his wife. Everyone would agree that is dishonorable. But it is dishonorable as it pertains to his personal life, not his public life nor his sport. So, here’s a few observations, as I see it:

1) Tiger’s infidelity is a private matter. I cringe every time I see a comedian make jokes about him. Every time there is a “Breaking News” story about his latest admissions, or a summary of those dalliances with a long list of females, I feel like we are invading the inner sanctum of someone else’s life which is none of my business, nor yours. We…primarily Americans and Brits…are constantly hungry for the dirt on celebrities, as though we are entitled. We’re not.

Unless of course, we’re talking about a state governor who disappears for four days to another country while he’s supposed to be on the public teat. Unless, of course, we’re talking about a president who uses the White House (Our House) as a forum for head jobs while he’s supposed to be keeping our country safe. Then, it is our business.

Otherwise, what Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods or Brad Pitt do in their private lives, is a family matter, not a public matter…unless they break the law.

2) I think about the media frenzy. This story has dominated every news show for two weeks, while wars are being fought on two fronts, a nation is in financial crisis, and thousands of other heros lining hospital rooms at Walter Reed get little or no mention.

3) I think about all the people who mock and judge. Media, commentators, comics, talk show hosts, sports figures, etc., many of whom should look in the mirror before they cast aspersions.

4) I think about the lures associated with fame and wealth. It’s got to be tough for a hormone-raging, thirty-year-old jock, thousands of miles from home throughout the year, in party atmosphere one after another, to resist the constant temptations. Wealthy athletes associated with the NBA, NFL, boxing, golf, tennis and other sports, are constantly on the road, living out of a suitcase, socializing in hotels while wives are at home tending to kids, or their BOTOX treatments. No doubt, many of them are well aware that their husbands engage in the pleasures of women who throw themselves at their feet, or in some cases, accept huge sums of money in exchange for their discreet services. This doesn’t give Tiger a pass, but it does bring it into the human perspective.

5) I never thought about the racial issue until I listened to a radio talk show in which a caller, a black man, caught my attention. As the media examines Tiger’s behavior with a microscope, it’s pretty obvious that his preference in women all share a similar profile. Blonde, white and beautiful…like his wife. The caller pointed out, that many of these wealthy black athletes who marry, seem to gravitate to inter-racial relationships, generally white women, usually blondes.

The issue, he said, is how it plays out to black women. How do they feel? Why is it that so many of these athletes, who could anyone they want, make such choices? I must admit, it made me think. And if it made me think, it certainly must make black folks think.

6) I think about Tiger paying for sex via escort businesses. Makes sense. He had no interest in forming a personal relationship with women, thus the pay-for-sex route. He didn’t want anyone to fall in love with him, or vise versa. After all, he had a family…and an image to protect.

Oh well.

7) Tiger is still the greatest golfer of all time. His demeanor on the links has been impeccable, always supportive and courteous to his challengers, and accommodating to the press.

He has been a valuable role model to millions of kids, particularly minorities, who see him as a giant figure who stayed focused to overcome bias and discrimination. His generosity through foundations has opened a number of golf clinics around the world, mainly focusing on kids. And, at the age of 33, has already won 71 PGA tournaments and 14 majors, one with a broken foot.

I hope this will eventually pass and we’ll watch his magic on the links once again in 2010. But when he does come back on the tour, he will have a new and important role for the youngsters at those golf clinics. That’s teaching the importance of fidelity.

What say you?

MICHAEL VICK VS PETE ROSE

 

Michael Vick, quarterback extraordinaire, has paid his debt to society. After serving 20 months in prison for dastardly crimes, the world of sports, and the media, were eager to forgive and welcome the phenom back into the football field, compliments of the Philadelphia Eagles who offered a contract worth multi-millions of dollars. What ex-con could expect so much?

For six years, Vick had operated an illegal dogfight business in Virginia which involved abuse, torture and execution of underperforming animals, not to mention the presence of drugs and the employment of illicit gambling. On top of that, Vick had denied all the allegations about his ugly business venture until evidence mounted with three of his comrades agreeing to testify against him. For Vick, it was the stain on the blue dress.

Should he perform on the field as expected, he may one day be heralded as a public icon, revered by millions of fans and voted into the Football hall of Fame. He stands as a role model for the young. Who cares about his crimes? He’s Michael Vick.

Some folks don’t want to hear about reality. What he presided over was cruel and gruesome. Man’s best friends are pitted against each other in a small enclosure as the blood lusters cheer on in glee making their bets. Vicious fights can last an hour as pit bulls inflict horrible injury upon one another, cracking bones, squealing, bleeding and ripping flesh. Some breeders cut off their ears so that rivals cannot bite onto them. Teeth are filed to make them sharper. Often, they are pumped with steroids. All this for the joy of watching innocent warm-blooded animals mutilate each other to tortuous deaths.

Two of the government’s witnesses claim that Vick not only gambled, but was personally involved in the brutal killing of at least eight dogs by hanging, drowning and electrocution because they didn’t perform. Nice guy.

Seems to me there’s an overdose hypocrisy here. Sports writers who lionize Vick have, for thirty years, turned up their noses at another sports figure whose Herculean feats far outshine the young Philadelphia quarterback.

Compare this. Pete Rose is the most prolific hitter in the history of Major League Baseball. He holds a host of individual records, some of which may never be broken, including most games played and most hits. His National League record of 44 consecutive games with a hit, is still unbroken. He was voted as an all-star 17 times, one MVP award, and three World Series Rings. Thought he’s one of the most electrifying players in the history of any sport, Rose has been permanently denied enshrinement into the Hall of Fame by many of those same sports writers.

Why? During his time as a manager, Pete Rose gambled on baseball. A crime, to be sure. While evidence wasn’t enough to convict him of illegal gambling, authorities managed to indict him for tax evasion in 1990, for which he served a five month prison sentence. Afterwards, no multi-million dollar contracts awaited him, no hoards of fans, only a few autograph sessions and a couple books that didn’t sell very well.

His crimes were a far cry from the violent, blood-thirsty practice of dog killing for the joy of gambling. Pete Rose killed no one, not even a dog. His crime was a product of gambling addiction, for which people in America are treated by the thousands every day.

Yet, he is banned from baseball for life, by sports writers. Compare that, to the love and forgiveness bestowed upon Michael Vick.

The Cooperstown museum is known as the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Morality. Rose stands beside such names as Ruth, Aaron, Mantle, and Mays as the most famous of the famous ball players in history, and thus it is time he be enshrined into the sacred temple of his sport. That is doable, by the sports writers of America. If they don’t, they should check out their own manuscripts which drooled over the young quarterback despite his acts of animal torture, for fun and money. They might change their mind.

There’s also another reality. Rose didn’t have the right supporters going to bat for him (so to speak) in his corner. From day one, Michael Vick had the backing of an organization called: NAACP.

I guess that does make a difference.

 

 

WHAT MAKES TIGER GREAT

 

In 1997, golfer Fuzzy Zoeller suggested that Tiger Woods would have everyone eat fried chicken and collard greens for the champion’s dish at the post-Masters dinner. Well, Zoeller didn’t eat fried chicken or collard greens. Rather, he at his words. He was vilified in the public eye, lost a million-dollar sponsorship and will be forever remembered for making such a comment. Neither did Zoeller know that the man he made fun of would make mince-meat of him as a professional golfer.

What did Tiger — who happens to be of color — make of it? Nothing. He ignored it and went on to enjoy his first of, what was destined to be, many major championships. By doing so, Zoeller’s ignorant remarks stood on their own. He had to live with them.

If similar comments were said of other well-known persons of color, we would have heard speeches about racial inequity and prejudice and divide. In Tiger’s case, he only needed to be better.

Rarely does one get the feeling that they live in an era of greatness. My respect for Tiger Woods is not only limited to his sport, I admire him as a human being, and as an American. Sure, there are sports heroes, entertainers, politicians, leaders, and so many are a cut above then rest. Baseball has had Willie, Hank, Mickey and Ty. But there’s never been another Babe.

Babe Ruth set the bar of greatness, he elevated baseball to heights players have strived toward for the last ninety years. He wasn’t just great, he was the greatest.

Golf has had its greats, like Nicklaus, Palmer and Snead. But if Tiger Woods were to retire today, nobody will ever match this man as the greatest golfer of all time, not only in skill but in sheer magnetism.

It is not just his 65 tour victories (thus far) or the fourteen major championships that elevate him so far above his peers, he brings out the best in all of us. His attention to perfection, his uncanny concentration and his work ethic provide one of the best role models for kids that has come along in decades. He is not only respected by fellow athletes, they are in awe of him.

There are no super market tabloid stories about Tiger Woods, because his private life is just that: private. He does not use his fame as a political soapbox. There are no studs through his nose, no dyed hair, no flash, no babes on his arm, and no criticism of others to make himself look better.

Sure he’s worth million, but he deserves all his wealth because he earned it. Tiger Woods does not spend time bragging about the many charities he supports, he simply gives and goes about his business.

I was riveted to the U.S. Open this past weekend as Tiger opened the tournament with double-bogeys, many strokes behind, and then struggled with an injured knee while playing catch-up for four days, only to rise above a field consisting of the best 156 players in the world, tying the leader on the final hole with a long birdie putt. The eighteen-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate was a classic. Behind again, coming into the last hole, Tiger prevailed and birdied one more to tie, again. Finally, Tiger did what he usually does: Win. Then, he hugged his opponent.

This was a lesson in never giving up, no matter how futile it may seem. This was a lesson in sheer tenacity and sportsmanship. This was a lesson in working through pain to achieve success, and not complaining about it. This was a lesson in sheer class.

Tiger stands as the only black amid hundreds of PGA tour players, 96 percent white and the rest Asian. (Vijay Singh is from Fiji) But it is never mentioned. Tiger is just another player, albeit a great one. There are no references by commentators, or fellow golfers that Tiger Woods is the first black this, or the first black that, or that he is a trailblazer for people of his race. No one asks him stupid questions about how he feels about achieving all this as a black man. How utterly refreshing that we, the American people, can see Tiger as a man, and not a color, as he stands a Titan among sports figures.

I hope I live to see the day we don’t need black caucuses in congress, black beauty pageants, black police officer associations, associations for the advancement of colored people, black unions, or hear about preachers and politicians who rant on about racial divide as though slavery just ended five years ago. You know what I mean … all that stuff that’s supposed to unite.

I hope I live to see the day when we have an army full of generals like Colin Powell, entertainers like Bill Cosby, actors like Denzel Washington and athletes like Tiger Woods who give of themselves as great and talented people without blustering about color.

Tiger Woods personifies where we are heading, toward a color-blind society. He doesn’t need to remind us of race. He has too much class for that.

That’s more than I can say for others in the public arena.

 

 

NO PLACE FOR CHEATS IN PRO SPORTS

Imagine, being a Christian and then learning that Jesus was a thief. Or that Celine Dion never really sings, she lip syncs.

This isn’t quite that drastic, but I’m crushed nonetheless. One of my sports idols has fallen from the pedestal. It’s not an easy feeling to have admired a person for so long, and then learn he or she isn’t worthy. It’s no different than having trusted a good friend only to learn that trust has been violated.

It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, music or acting, we human beings admire, and often idolize those who excel over others in their field because, well, they deserve it. Deniro, Streep, Heifetz, Pavarotti, Ruth, Woods, are all names that are instantly recognized and associated with greatness in their respective fields, because they deserve it. That’s the operative word: Deserve.

The best athletes excel over others because of two salient factors: Talent and hard work. The premise is that all competitors start out on an even playing field, and only the best rise to the top.

There is no room for a third factor: Cheating.

When the Mitchell report was released this past Thursday, naming more than eighty baseball cheaters that used drugs to enhance their physical prowess, I expected to hear about Barry Bonds, and Jason Giambi, and others that we already knew about. Then came the crushing news. Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher of the modern era, winner of 354 games, second all time in strikeouts, and so many more achievements worthy of immortality, will never see his name embossed on a plaque in the Hall of Fame, because he was a cheat.

Pete Rose, who holds the all-time record for most hits in a lifetime of playing the game, has been barred from baseball and never inducted into the revered Hall. Rose may have committed a moral infraction by gambling, but his records are intact. Every hit was legitimate. He never cheated.

I had been a baseball fanatic all my life until the strike of 1994, when I watched millionaire players whine and weep behind union leadership claiming their salaries and benefits were not good enough. Tom Glavine, who then earned four million dollars a year for throwing a ball, led the union into a strike that not only ended the 1994 season, it put thousands of merchants out of their sources of income, including vendors, restaurants, taxi drivers, hot dog sellers, and more. That’s when I stopped watching baseball.

Baseball was in the pits until 1998 when renewed excitement injected the game with a barrage of homers by the likes of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. In the entire 130-year history of the game, the magic mark of 60 homers were achieved in only two times, and suddenly, two players did it in one year. Others were smacking over 50. Amazing. McGuire’s 70 round-trippers brought me back as a fan. He was my new sports hero. By the way, that same year a better-than-average player named Barry Bonds hit a mere 37 home runs.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Bonds suddenly bulked up like the Incredible Hulk and three years later, slammed 73 home runs.

Now that the Mitchell report is official, we learn that the players — by the dozens — have stuck it to us once again. We fans are the victims of cheaters.

It can’t be attributed to greed, these guys make more money than the average human being could ever dream of. It can’t be the quest for fame, they already have it. It can only be, the almighty ego — that powerful drive to be seen as the best, even if they are not.

Having been a team member for many years, that is — a police officer in a team of 3500 cops, I came to learn that some officers (though very few) are able to get away with improper conduct only because their bosses enable them or look the other way. Police officers who tend to be physically abusive are usually known to the sergeants and lieutenants they work for. The camaraderie is too tight for the higher echelon to claim ignorance. If Jason Giambi, Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds were using steroids with the help of trainers, there is no doubt in my mind the likes of Joe Torres, Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker had knowledge, or even consent.

The shame is that players like McGuire and Bonds were destined for the Hall of Fame based on their outstanding records before they ever took the first drug. But that wasn’t good enough. They needed to be seen as better than Babe Ruth. That will never happen.

Marion Jones was recently stripped of her Olympic medals after it was learned that she used performance enhancing drugs to beat her opponents. Likewise, sprinter Ben Johnson of Canada was stripped of his records set in 1988.

Every baseball record that was set by steroid users starting in 1998, should be stricken from the record books.

Induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame? If it’s no place for gamblers, it’s certainly no place for cheaters.