Last week, when Tiger Woods won his second tournament of the year with one of the most incredible shots of his career, I cursed in a language I don’t usually speak. “He’s $#$@ back, $%$#$ @#$#!” Tiger Woods’ star has been on the rise since he was three years old, but his story is archetypal.
I have had a long relationship with Tiger ever since I was a golf shop employee in college and saw him rise from the amateurs meteorically to the pros. But in late 2009, his personal life spilled into the public and we together witnessed Tiger's star obscured behind a cloud of tears and shame. My sports hero had fallen and I was left alone to process my shock. For two years I saw him try, yet fail, to return to stardom.
He also failed to give me an opportunity to mourn my loss. I didn't judge his behavior except for the fact that I never thought he could win again, not because he didn't have the talent. I thought he couldn’t win because I didn’t think his heroic self could tolerate the public shame. It also seemed that he wanted to return to his former heroic self without acknowledging the public's feelings of loss.
Tiger had fallen, like Icarus who flew too close to the sun even though his father warned him. Perhaps Tiger fell, because his father didn’t warn him and actually encouraged him by boldly proclaiming Tiger would change the world. We can sympathize with a fallen hero if their life history challenges us to rethink our selves. Consider Muhammad Ali. Is the world ready for a challenge to reconsider our fallen sports hero as a hero with faults?
Now with two season victories and the U.S. Open next weekend, I'm forced to consider him again in my life. For better or worse, he in an attachment figure.
Sports heroes are important models in so many ways and rarely do they take the shape of a model with whom we have to acknowledge their weaknesses. They obtained their position through their strengths and through a carefully crafted image without regard for his flaws.
But now he is back on top of his game and we must assume his image makers are hard at work. Let’s reconsider him thoughtfully in the madness of the image machine. Will advertisers use a fallen hero image to sell their products? Will the public take him in again with disclosures about his personal life? In the end, I think the status quo will rule the day.
On a personal level, are we allowing him back into our lives by coming to terms with his past indiscretions and forgiving him, or will we be naive and selfish, and just want our hero back. I admit I want my hero and, ok, his flaws, but I don't want to be set up for disappointment again. So I want something more from Tiger. I want to see more reflection on his situation.
I, like many fans of Tiger Woods, admire his single-minded determination and ultimately his focus on becoming the best athlete he can be. And over the years I have lived with his scripted, one-line, thoughtless answers to most of the medias’ questions. But these answers, which he still gives, do not convey a sense of relationship with the media or with his fans. We are fans of Tiger Woods and we are going to support him again, it is time for him to give us something more than just heroic shots.
I am also an athlete, a recent sub-four-hour marathoner, a former golfer, and I am not perfect. Help me Tiger, as my sports hero and as a model, integrate my less than perfect self. If you can do this, you might live up to your father’s expectations and make a difference beyond the sports world.
At the end of the day I don’t care if he wins or loses; I do care if if my hero cares about his fans.