Sigh. I don’t think I can resist commenting on the reaction of anyone who is finding themselves profoundly disappointed by the fact that one of the richest, most famous, successful athletes in the world cheated on his wife. I’m not sure what in the long history of philandering sports superstars would actually surprise anyone about Tiger Woods’ marital indiscretion, but I’m constantly amazed by the expectation that professional athletes to adhere to some woefully unrealistic ideal of white collar wholesomeness. To borrow a quote friend of mine, “it’s just disappointing to see that we’re not more than the sum of our urges.”
Believe it or not, I sympathize with the general theme my friend expressed. But not as it applies to people like Tiger Woods. Chuck Klosterman has made a similar point about Gilbert Arenas, but why would anyone expect someone like Tiger Woods to be a normal Joe (and we won’t even get in to the fact that many normal Joes and Janes engage in extramarital dalliances themselves)?
Consider for a moment what makes Tiger Woods so much better than his peers. Sure, here’s a very talented golfer, but more than anything else, other golfers live in constant fear of his competitiveness. You’ve heard all the cliches on TV before, “Tiger never gives in,” or “Tiger just wants it more.” Ask yourself, what kind of person does it take to be so relentlessly competitive, to care that much about winning, to feel such an urge to dominate that anything less than first place, every time is a disappointment? I’ll tell you: not the kind of person you’d expect to be the standard bearer of modest bourgeoisie morality. We’re talking about someone who — to borrow a common descriptor used in sports — is like an animal, a person driven by a near evolutionary impulse to never relent. Why would it be reasonable to expect someone with such a competitive drive to have otherwise flawless impulse control? It’s completely absurd.
To be perfectly clear, none of this justifies Woods’ actions and I’m not apologizing on Woods’ behalf. There’s little question his actions have been hurtful to his wife and will have lasting repercussions for his children. But it seems odd that people would celebrate Woods’ near inhuman will to dominate in one arena and hold some expectation that he’s an otherwise normal guy. That sort of compartmentalization really would be inhuman.
If you want to root for a normal guy, root for Phil Mickelson.