By now, we’ve all heard the updates on the Tiger Woods saga… possibly ad-nauseum. For me, this was the moment I realized I no longer want to hear about the private lives of athletes. Don’t get me wrong, I check People.com occasionally, but I also spend half my day on ESPN.com. Also, I understand the millions of dollars in endorsements that can be wiped out by a US Weekly-worthy single transgression and it’s definitely news-worthy if there is a major criminal offense that has been committed.
But my question is this: is sports better or worse off in this era of 24/7 news cycles?
On one hand, you don’t have to hear about the “shot heard ’round the world” from a newspaper article. You don’t have to imagine Babe Ruth calling his shot and moments later hitting a homerun to that same spot. You don’t have to wonder for 12 hours who won Ali-Frasier II (or III or IV).
What’s left to wonder these days? How many dunks will make the sports show’s Top 10? Why the Monday Night Football highlights weren’t the lead story last night? Whether soccer will get a mention on SportsCenter?
Are we better off for knowing all the intimate details of how Latrell Sprewell choked his coach? For hearing Allen Iverson complain about practice? For having the sports highlight shows seem more like police blotters? Or for reading about Tiger’s philandering?
Does this extra knowledge actually add to our game-watching experience? Some people could argue that knowing more about the players helps us to identify with them. It helps us feel closer to our favorite players and therefore be more interested in buying game tickets and merchandise.
But what we end up with is subtraction by addition. By knowing all of this additional, real-time information, we lose the ability to idolize these players without a nagging feeling that someday it will be their name on the front page of the paper tomorrow. How do fathers look their sons in the eye and say “there is a man you can emulate” when they aren’t truly sure if that player is clean. The athlete could be taking performance-enhancing drugs, driving drunk, carrying around illegally concealed weapons, or cheating on their wives – and sooner or later we’ll know about it.
What I do know are the attributes that draw me to sports: the competition, passion, athleticism and skill that athletes display on their chosen field. They don’t have to be perfect husbands, drivers, or moral-compasses to thrill fans.
For now, besides the athlete’s pocketbook, the coprorate sponsors are the biggest losers. Marketing executives have to be shivering in their shoes when they sign contracts from here on out. Tiger was untouchable. Other than his infamous swearing on the course, he was the closest thing we had to ‘clean.’ This incident will go to show companies that no endorsement is safe. All of them have inherent risks because their products are endorsed by humans, and humans make mistakes.
I for one will long for the days when we knew a little less about our sports stars, so that we could enjoy them a little more.