The purpose of this blog is to get readers to think about the complex (or perhaps simple) issues I write about.

The primary topics will revolve around politics and society as a whole, but a mixture of sports opinion may be thrown in from time to time.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Media and Tiger Woods

I'm a subscriber to Gentlemen's Quarterly magazine and have been since September of 1998, when I was 14. I mostly enjoy the magazine despite its overtly liberal slant, and over-broad, over-reaching exposure pieces it runs month in and month out to chastise a cause or a person they just don't like.

I will continue to enjoy the magazine despite this piece about Tiger Woods, his "comeback" and how it hasn't changed him, or simply that he hasn't changed since all of his "problems" arose (or were outed) back in November 2009 and that he (apparently) owes the public and the media their due for allowing him to claw his way back into the limelight.

Daniel Riley basically makes Tiger Woods to be a man that has changed very little since the world discovered the golfer's private life and marital issues back in 2009. He still swears on the golf course despite pledging not to upon his return to golf in 2010, he doesn't sign autographs unless he plays well, he "has to" play with a security detail that's ready to confiscate your phone on his command, and overall, he's just the same dick that he's always been. Riley uses a couple of sentences to hint at a concession: that Tiger's manufactured childhood was never going to lead to societal normalcy in adulthood, but after reading the piece, it's no wonder that Tiger has kept at least one promise, the promise he made never to speak to GQ after their expose of him in 1997.

For all intents and purposes, the piece is fine with me if you think a "good" monthly magazine article uses its 2500 words effectively in proving the point it seeks to prove. And like most magazine articles that tip the scales in favor of subjective context (there isn't a primary (or every secondary) source cited in the article save for a few "this is what he/she has said about Tiger" quotes. Where I think the piece sorely lacks is in its overall integrity.

I get that Tiger Woods is one of, if not the most recognizable sports figure in the world, but watching a golfer's first tournament of 2012 on TV, drawing several conclusions about his performance in that tournament which have already been drawn, and attending one PGA tour event in which Tiger played doesn't strike me as giving the reader any since of what it might actually mean to be Tiger Woods.

That isn't to say there isn't a lot of conclusions the article makes that I find myself disagreeing with. I think Tiger's existence in a globally televised sport makes him a public figure ripe for scrutiny however harsh or possibly unfair. I also agree that nothing about the global star's childhood and upbringing was going to make him any less of a jaded and reclusive being (I'll expand on this in a moment). I agree that Tiger could better his public image in any number of ways (which we all have already made our own conclusions about), but the thing is, the man just doesn't care what you think.

I find myself disagreeing with the conclusions Riley makes more than I could ever agree with the over-arching tenor of the article on the whole. There are a few similarities that Tiger Woods and I share, and one is the age in which we first hit the links, 3 years old. Mostly though, the differences couldn't be any greater. Tiger Woods was made into the persona that Riley disparages. From the time he could take 100 full swings, Tiger Woods was expected to be the greatest golfer in the world. Now I am no psychologist, but when your father is essentially making you become the greatest golfer, that leads little time for anything else, e.g. social interaction with your peers.

What Riley forgets to tell you, or if I would go so far, completely doesn't know, is that Tiger Woods has never had any real friends. The stories written about him and what Woods himself has eluded to are that he very much lived a reclusive childhood. Sure he had your normal friends like any kid might have, but social interaction was not highest on the list in Earl Wood's manufacturing of Tiger.

Tiger played on the Stanford golf team, yet you never see him hanging out with any of those guys, even when he was the age to do so. He counts teammate and fellow PGA pro Notah Begay III as a close friend, but to illustrate just how close they might be, all you have to do is look at the "What the hell is happening to Tiger" interviews conducted between the Thanksgiving incident in 2009 to the first round of the 2010 Masters Tournament. Most major news outlets, namely ESPN had Notah Begay on for several interviews and while he could offer some insight into Tiger, you got the sense that he wanted to say "look, I haven't hung out with the guy in two years."

Riley (and the media writ large, hoping for this "better person" Tiger Woods) seem to ignore the reality of the life of Tiger Woods. Not only do they fail to seek the answer to "why" Tiger is an asshole, but they ignore the simple fact that much of that comes with the territory with international superstars. The guy is the greatest golfer to tee up a golf ball since Jack Nicklaus, who by most accounts, was also a stark-raving dick, to the media, to fans, and to those who didn't regard him as highly as he wanted them to. known for autographing his golf ball and handing it to a kid on a rope line from green to tee-the same player who retains the nickname FIGJAM (Fuck, I'm good, just ask me) among his peers.

GQ and other media outlets have ran with the notion that Tiger owes something to the sport, and his fan base for any success he sees after his private life was exposed. Not only is this notion devoid of reality, it's just simply ignorant, and there is really a "I'll have my cake and I'll eat it too" air about it. What I mean by that is we want all of our stars to be larger than life, and it is we that put them on a pedestal based on their performances (on the course, court, movie stage, whatever) and the highlights of their personal lives the media is so eager to feed us-which stems from an obligation they feel the star's performances merit. Perhaps on Tiger specifically, GQ deserves major praise for their 1997 article that highlighted Woods as a vulgar, socially inept-while-craving-social-acceptance future star when all other news outlets felt it an unnecessary step into appropriate journalism to venture where they light doesn't exactly shine on a star they feel obligated to make burn bright to the celebrity-starved public.

The reason I write is because I think this current GQ article creates a false narrative of how we all should look at Tiger Woods from here on out. What I mean is this: I would venture to guess that Riley thought Tiger might take a more "Mickelson" like approach to his game during his "comeback". Mickelson, who's lauded by all media for being the type of guy that's known for autographing his golf ball and handing it to a kid on the rope line from a green to the next tee. The only catch is Mickelson also happens to be the player who carries the nickname FIGJAM  (Fuck, I'm good, just ask me) among his peers. Tiger, Jack, and yes, even the always-smiling, always charming, Phil Mickelson operate in a world where their incredible ability is on display 24/7, they've produced dominating performances in their sport, we should just operate under the assumption that they think many of the "rules" the media and society might apply to them, simply do not.

From the golf standpoint alone, I'm not sure what Mr. Riley's handicap is, but I'm guessing it's much too high to be fairly taking the cheap shots at Tiger's struggles on his way back to the two victories-which he also highlights in the piece but without mentioning the obvious effects the emotional toll (which he brought on himself) affected his game, and the three injuries and subsequent surgeries he's had along the way. I'm also of the opinion that every person who follows golf for a living (obviously Riley doesn't, but chooses the same lines as those who do) needs to stop with the "Tiger used to(s)."

"Tiger used to never blow third round leads. Tiger's opponents caved to him like melted thumb-sucking children." Just like in 2008, there are dozens of PGA Tour golfers that can beat Tiger on any day, regardless of how many strokes he might be ahead of them. If you asked most of them, they won't tell you that they're getting better because they want to beat Tiger, but they'll admit that Tiger inherently made everyone better in his prime. They'll also mention that you're now seeing the results of the effect Tiger had with the generation of golfers coming into the PGA who were single digits-in age, when Tiger was putting on his first Green Jacket.

I will end, as Riley ended his piece, (with his quote), "What we've longed to see these last two years was that (Tiger) comprehended—and maybe even enjoyed—his good fortune. Which got me thinking: When was the last time Tiger looked beholden on the golf course, overwhelmed with the sense that he'd been dealt an extraordinary hand? -- Riley makes the case (after exposing/insulting Woods' lack of change in his character for 2200 words) that "his good fortune" is that the public didn't turn Woods into the pariah that Riley apparently thinks the public could have turned him into. What Riley seems to ignore is the fact that those with jobs like his are the ones who've been complicit in making Woods into the once-in-a-century phenom on the golf course, and the People magazine cover family man they all profited from. 

So count me skeptical of this notion that those in the media (fashion magazine or Golf Digest) shouldn't themselves be examined when they seek recognition from their readers for tearing down those who they themselves are in large part responsible for building up in the first place. 

And one last thing. Tiger's "extraordinary hand" is about 5% of natural ability and 95% drive and determination to get better. From a golfing standpoint, you don't win the Masters in an earth shattering display, and then decide to completely change the swing that allowed you to do it unless you're determined to get better at what you do. Maybe I'm just unsure about what Riley is referring to when he mentions this "extraordinary hand" that's been "dealt" to Tiger. If its in reference to the fact that he was allowed to come back to his sport by either the graciousness of a public, which, in stone cold reality, cared very little about his transgressions in his personal life, the conclusions he makes are simply illogical.  Or, if its the more likely notion that-the media, who happened to be entirely complicit in branding Tiger Woods as someone whose talents transcended the sport and whose stark and friendly outward demeanor off the course allowed them to brandish him a role model for everything we wanted our sons to be; has graciously allowed him to enjoy victory without questioning him about his "broken promises" made at a time when he was most vulnerable to us all, is downright shameful. 
Jason Sobel was off today.

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