Stupid Headline of the Year Award goes to The Globe and Mail: “World Stops for 13 Minutes”, in reference to Tiger Woods’s televised apology for his affairs. Do the editors of The Globe and Mail really think that the people of Haiti, Darfur, and Afghanistan ceased, for thirteen minutes, picking up the shattered pieces of their lives in order to hear an American billionaire confess that he has had trouble keeping his nine iron in his golf bag? No doubt they were positively riveted to their screens. Or, they would have been if they had screens.
Newshound that I am, I have found this event inescapable. There it has been, on nearly every news home page I have bookmarked. I am not sure why it is of any conceivable interest to anyone, but, then, I consider an afternoon of golf to rank alongside an afternoon of root canal on the desirability index. My interest in the sordid details of the personal life a professional golfer diminishes proportionately.
At any rate, from what I’ve gathered the Woods business has followed the usual parabola of celebrity meltdowns: the embarrassing event exposed, followed by seclusion, rehab, religion, and then re-emergence, before televised audiences, while all the while asking for the press to “respect my privacy at this difficult time.” (And if you wish to learn more about the “privacy at this difficult time” policy, please contact my press agent, or tune in to see me on Oprah next week.)
I feel queasy even taking this amount of time to write about it. But there are some lessons to be learned here. First, some newspaper editors seem determined to incite a worldwide peasant revolt. Page One: “The World Stops for 13 Minutes.” Page Two: “Let Them Eat Cake.” Second, and perhaps more importantly, this case reinforces my belief that there’s no particular evidence to support the claim that is repeated ad infinitum in our schools: that playing sports promotes moral character.
Or do we think of character when the likes of Mike Tyson, Tonya Harding, Jose Canseco, Michael Vick, and O.J. Simpson are mentioned? Do we even need to raise the fact that it is by now established beyond all doubt that the overwhelming majority of professional athletes and, indeed, amateurs at high levels of competitive play, routinely use banned and often illegal performance-enhancing drugs? The website “Cheat or Beat” used to maintain a week-by-week “roundup” of drug-related infractions in competitive sports. One can understand why they stopped. After about a month or so, the point was made. Check out this list of a five-day period in October 2008.
I know, I know. I’m being unfair. Many people find watching and playing sports to be harmless fun, and sports can, I am willing to concede, teach young people important lessons for the larger game of life when the games are well conducted and properly supervised. (I just never experienced this myself.) And let’s not forget, too, that some athletes are authentic humanitarians who will hit home runs for orphans, and we'll overlook the fact that there are a few "bad apples" who would hit orphans for home runs.
Take, for instance, a certain recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a figure lauded in his own six-story museum in Louisville, Kentucky, as having the core values of "respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, charity, and spirituality", a man once described in a documentary series as “the foremost citizen on planet earth” and who was the subject of an adoring Hollywood bio-pic, the much-beloved “Greatest” himself, Muhammad Ali. In a 1975 interview with Playboy, the resurgent champ, fresh from his victory over George Foreman, made the following remarks, which to my knowledge he has never retracted:
Ali: “A black man should be killed if he’s messing with a white woman.”
Playboy Interviewer: “And if a Muslim woman wants to go out with a non-Muslim blacks, or white men, for that matter?”
Ali: “Then she dies. Kill her, too.”
The fact that an athlete can make racist, misogynistic, and homicidal remarks in a single sentence and still come off as a “hero” is indicative, perhaps, of how low we set the threshold of acceptable behavior for our athletes, and serves as yet another reminder that Orwell was right when he said that we should judge saints guilty until they are proven innocent.