Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grabbing a Tiger By the Tale

The other day, the Fan's beautiful and sweet daughter told her daddy, "I'm sorry about Tiger. I know he's your favorite." After she was given a hug for her concern, she was told that it was the Fan's own fault. Our American penchant for setting up heroes is our downfall. People are people. They are unfailingly and unflinchingly imperfect. And yet, if you are like this writer, you buy the Nike Sumo driver and the Nike irons and a Tiger lob wedge and a Nike bag and shoes (the same ones Tiger wears) because you buy into the hero worship that goes along with our obsession with sports and movies and politics.

And really, the Fan should know better. It's not like there isn't a lot of history that has come before this little fiasco. Growing up, some of the most exciting sport events in history were the exploits of O. J. Simpson. The Fan idolized the guy and watched every game and bit of footage available. The man was the most beautiful and dynamic runner ever witnessed in the game of football. Then one day, the television was turned on and the police were in this odd, slow-motion chase with this white Ford Bronco. And we all found out that O. J. Simpson was the best running back in history, but not the best person.

The Fan spent nearly twenty years idolizing Roger Clemens and watching him grunt and grind his way into being the most dominant pitcher of his era. Pedro was better for a few years, but over the long haul, it was Rocket Roger. But he ultimately fell too with the PEDs and infidelity and the lies and everything else.

And those were not isolated incidents. Early hero, Mickey Mantle was very flawed as was John F. Kennedy and Wade Boggs and Joe Namath and Joe Pepitone and Rock Hudson and Rickey Nelson and a host of others.

Our problem is that we go beyond appreciating these people for their particular talents. We go beyond appreciating Tiger as the best golfer we've ever seen. We set them up as paragons of what we would like to be ourselves. That's the gist of it, isn't it? Wouldn't we have all wanted to be Tiger? Or Jeter? Or Simpson? Or Mantle? Or Marilyn Monroe? Or anyone else we have built up beyond their own humanity?

Instead, we buy into the pictures we are painted by a similarly rose-colored media and see an image that appeals to our senses of self-dreaming. The trouble is, nobody can live up to that except a few saints each generation that seem to overcome their troubled humanity. Mother Theresa comes to mind. But other than those few saints, we go beyond what we appreciate about the subject's skill level and we take it up to a hero worship.

And then our heroes turn out to be flawed, chipped and well...human. The media that spent so much effort making these people our darlings, suddenly turns into this snarling, self-righteous mass of buzzards swirling to take the very skin off of our fallen idols. And we read it all up in horror and yet fascination and our hearts sink on one level, but on another level glory in the fact that these people that we thought were so much better than us were really not.

And so we end up being wrong on both ends. First, our need to idolize a symbol of what we want to be sets us up for the disappointment. And then when the inevitable disappointment comes, we get all indignant about what has happened. Look, obviously what Tiger has done is wrong on many levels of our society. You don't get married, have kids and act like you are all gooey-family oriented and then run around with every woman you can afford. But how many of us, if we had that kind of opportunity and money and the lack of restraints would do the same thing?

But there is another funny thing that happens. Say you're Michael Jackson and you reach idol status and your nose falls off and you get caught (allegedly) playing with little boys. Then you fall from your pedestal and are reviled and ridiculed...until you die. Then, once you die, the Elvis, Michael Jackson, Mickey Mantle hero machine starts back up and the humans become idols again, this time dead ones. All Tiger has to do to beat this thing is to die, right? Let's hope and pray that he doesn't, but isn't the Fan right on this?

It's not like we need to by cynical. We just need to be practical. We can and should appreciate the skills our favorite players play with. We should admire the looks of our models along with the skills of our actors. But we need to keep in mind that they are mortals just like the rest of us. We don't need to be skeptical and think the worst of everyone. We just need to reign in our hero-building engines and simply be awed by what we see and watch without transferring that awesome ability to the person him/herself.

And when the media gets a hold of a story like this and glories in the feast of the ashes of our fallen hero's life, turn the other way. Turn it off. It serves no purpose but to make us all a little bit smaller, a little more petty and at worst, a people of hypocrites. After all, deep down, we knew they were human. Admit it.

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