The Tiger Woods Affair Shows that Great Athletes Aren't Necessarily Good People

Sometimes athletic talent goes to the undeserving.

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By Laura Chapin, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

For the record, I don't think Tiger Woods's apparent pathological cheating on his beautiful wife and kids makes him "more human." I think it makes him a lying slimeball.

Tiger Woods should never have been put on that high of a pedestal in the first place—and neither should any other athlete. He's a great golfer. That doesn't mean he's a great human being. His athletic triumphs are admirable. His treatment of women, not so much.

As a society, we are far too eager to project onto athletes qualities they do not possess out of our own insecurity. And we are far too willing to reward and forgive them for bad behavior out of an unwillingness to admit their public image is just advertising. (And I say this as someone who bleeds Burnt Orange and whose perfect weekend consists of college football all day Saturday and pro football all day Sunday. I'm sure Colt McCoy will let me down at some point too.)

As Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins put it in a 2003 column about Kobe Bryant:

Sports figures in America are not presented as human beings but as celluloid figments of perfection. We presume an intimate knowledge of their character that we don't presume with other public figures, including actors, rock stars or politicians, and sometimes we have a greater attachment to them because we have an emotional investment in their success, as their consumers and fans. ...

We're constantly in search of evidence that they are angels, and that their astonishing physical gifts are actually merited, and almost no amount of evidence to the contrary will shake our faith in that idea. Why?

Because the alternative is to admit gifts are randomly distributed.

We desperately want to believe that talent isn't visited upon the undeserving—but it is. It's the same reason certain people ascribe virtue to rich people: If they're good, and we're good, then we too will become rich. Perhaps we should assign to athletes only the qualities they actually do possess, rather than the ones we think they should—even if they are the greatest golfer in history.

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