Friday, April 09, 2010

Fame, power and the human condition

As I sit down to write this, Eldrick Woods has just finishing playing golf at the immaculate and meticulously manicured, Augusta National golf club. Watching the highlights of The Masters golf tournament, one might get the impression that Tiger Woods is back, and has put his public relations nightmare behind him. Not so fast.

To be sure, there are hundreds and thousands of Tiger's fans who are following him on the course, cheering just as loud as they ever did. Unless there is another monumental lapse in Tiger's behavior, fifteen years from now, after a few more major championships, people will say that Woods was the best golfer the world has ever seen. However, his public image, an image just as meticulously crafted and maintained as Augusta's greens, will forever carry a tarnish that can never be polished off.

I remember seeing Tiger when he was about 13 or 15 years old on TV, and I was amazed at his talent. He seemed like a great young man who possessed everything needed to be a sports super star. In the first years of his professional career, Woods was a machine. Win a few golf tournaments, practice, make a few television commercials, win another tournament, repeat. He kept his private life private, as he constructed a professional image that drew corporate sponsorship dollars like no one since Michael Jordan had.

Today, I guess everyone is asking the same question; why? Why would Tiger Woods jeopardize everything he has?

The frailties of human nature, especially the human male, are not a mystery to most of us. As men, we know that no matter how good our lives are, no matter how much we love our families, we are surrounded by temptation. The temptation of more, better, perfect, pleasure, they are all out there, and we are bombarded with their message in every type of media we encounter. So why do some men submit to these temptations, while others are tempted, but turn away? In my case, that answer is easy; my wife knows how to shoot.

Given the choice, I'd take a 5-iron to the noggin over a .38 caliber slug any day.

No one can know for sure what caused Tiger Woods' moral implosion. Nevertheless, I would bet that he didn't start down this dark road of infidelity knowing he would end up here. We never do.

The one thing about success, especially at a super star level, is you start believing too much in your own abilities. The mental discipline, the focus, the decision-making abilities you used to succeed in your profession seem like they allow you to do whatever you choose. So why not choose a little fun?

Why not go back to the hotel with this beautiful woman? You have the discipline; you can have this one sinful treat, just this one time. You can have this one little weekend together; you have the strength to stop any time, right? You can have this one relationship outside your marriage, and maybe one other, you deserve it. I can have these two separate lifestyles, one for the corporate sponsors, my public image, and this one where I can do whatever I want with whomever I choose. I can stop at any time, I can.

To quote scripture; Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (For some reason, the King James version seems to hit he between the eyes)

Many a politician, celebrity, athlete, pastor and postman have fallen from grace, telling themselves they can stop any time. When we convince ourselves we are strong enough to go down this road, just a little way and then turn back, we are heading for a fall. The distance we fall, and the damage we cause, is only a matter of when we are caught. Thank your lucky stars if you do catch yourself taking that off ramp and veer back onto the straight and narrow in time. You are fortunate indeed.

So, Tiger Woods is back playing golf. This may be the one place where he feels in control right now. I once was a big Tiger fan. The things he can do on a golf course are amazing. That concentration, that focus, and his natural talent are all things to admire in a professional golfer. As a person, I cannot quite bring myself to root for him. I don't know if I ever will.

I am all for forgiveness and second chances, but when you screw up this badly, when you have been living 180 degrees away from you carefully managed public image, you need more than just a press conference to make things right. Either your marriage and your children are the most important things in the world, or they're not. If you never played another round of golf, you would still have more money that ten people could spend in a lifetime.

I'm sure you are sorry that you were caught, but it seems like you have turned that famous focus and discipline into rebuilding your public image, not rebuilding yourself as a person. This could be a golden opportunity to become a great person, not just a great golfer. I know the latter pays better than the former, but I guess we all have our priorities.

If Tiger goes on to break Jack Nicklaus’ record for major championships, I will tip my hat and say, he is the best golfer to have played the game. He could be so much more.

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