Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Moving on to Notre Dame and Serena Williams, Following a Short Rehash of Yesterday

As I’ve said before, some mornings it is hard to know where to begin.

The biggest story in sports continues to be ‘Tiger-gate.’ Yesterday, to no one’s surprise, he announced he was pulling out of his own tournament—it is really an exhibition since every player collects a big check—because of the injuries he suffered last Friday morning. What’s interesting about that is that his spin-doctors rushed out with a statement on Friday claiming his injuries were, “minor.” Now, four days later he’s too badly hurt to get on a private plane to, at the very least put in an appearance on behalf of the tournament sponsor who is putting up $5.5 million in prize money alone.

Methinks he’s not ready to let anyone see him public.

Let me pause a moment here to go back to yesterday and some of the comments that were posted here. I’m always very curious to see what readers write, especially because they frequently raise questions or issues I hadn’t thought about. Since I started the blog five months ago very few of those who have posted or sent e-mails have been especially negative or angry. In fact, one of the things that has made me happy is the thoughtfulness and, well, smartness of so many of the posts. It isn’t like reading some other blog posting areas where people scream cyber-profanities at one another and toss anonymous cheap shots around.

Yesterday, a lot of the posts were pretty much the norm: smart people agreeing to perhaps disagree on a complicated topic which very much involves how much privacy a public figure is entitled to have. But there were also some that were angry—angry with me for suggesting that Woods owes the public some kind of an explanation because there are so many un-answered questions about what happened last Friday. I also wrote that it would be best for HIM to give some kind of explanation and I think the fact that he had to pull out of his own tournament is more evidence of that. At the moment he is, for all intents and purposes, a prisoner in his own home.

What I realized reading the posts is something I hadn’t thought about in the past. I’ve always known that fans of a TEAM don’t care at all about the off-field behavior of their stars as long as they perform. Right now fans of the Yankees could care less about Alex Rodriguez’s steroids admissions last spring. All they know is he (finally) performed in postseason and the Yankees won The World Series. Fans of college football and basketball teams could care less about whether their players graduate: they want them to perform, win games, make them feel good. If you graduate, that’s fine, but it doesn’t matter. No coach—repeat NO coach—has ever been fired because he had a low graduation rate.

Woods is such a transcendent figure that many fans look at him as THEIR golfer. As a number of posts said, “as long as he entertains me with spectacular golf, I don’t care what he does off the course.” (At least one poster spelled it coarse, but that’s okay). A couple of others went the kind of tired route that those of us who report on athletes transgressions are essentially ambulance chasers and we should leave the guy alone, mind our own business, yata-yata-yata. My suggestion to them is that they not waste their time with this blog because what I write here for the most part is about people I know and have known in sports, the good and the bad. If you are looking for happy talk, go to TigerWoods.com.

Here’s the larger point: In the end most fans just want athletes to perform, to make them feel happy by winning and, in Tiger’s case, often winning spectacularly. I get all that, I have a better understanding of that today than I did yesterday because I hadn’t thought of it in those terms for an athlete in an individual sport.

I will say this: Golf Channel had a crisis-management expert on the air yesterday, a guy who clearly has no vested interest in this at all. He basically said what I had said: the longer Tiger stonewalls, the worse it gets for him—because there are LOTS of people who see a carefully cultivated image and wonder now if it’s real. That’s not going away regardless of what I say, write or think. I would add one more thing for those of you who care only about what Tiger does on the golf course: He’s not ON the golf course entertaining you this week. It may be because he’s more beat up than his people let on last Friday or it may be because he’s hiding out. Either way, it’s really too damn bad for everyone—including Tiger.


On to happier topics: Charlie Weis got fired yesterday. That wasn’t even a little bit of a surprise to anyone but it always amuses me how guys in suits think they can spin things just by claiming they’re true. Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, who does look good in a suit, talked about how difficult the decision was because Weis is really such a good guy. “I have never met anyone for whom there was a larger gulf between perception and reality than Charlie Weis,” he claimed and then went into all the hoo-ha about how much Weis loves Notre Dame—as if that qualifies ANYONE to coach. I love the New York Islanders. That doesn’t mean I should coach them.

Here’s some Weis reality: he swaggered into Notre Dame telling people he was going to out-scheme other coaches and bullying the media, using his opening press conference to “lay down the law,” on what would and wouldn’t be allowed and threatening reporters with banishment if they failed to follow all his rules.

More reality: he never once took responsibility for his failures. It was always the players who failed to run a route right, didn’t make a block or a tackle. The old, “I coached good, they played bad,” routine. When Notre Dame won it was because of some brilliant offensive scheme he came up with. (See last year’s Hawaii Bowl).

A bit more reality: Weis ducked the media after the Stanford game last Saturday, wasn’t man enough to stand there and accept that he had failed. Actually, it may be a good thing: no doubt he would have blamed the players for his failures. Then he went out and started leaking about all the NFL teams that were interested in him.

THAT’s the reality of Charlie Weis.

What was almost as amusing was to hear the two morning guys on ESPN apologizing for him today. Of course one has two sons recruited by Weis and is an apologist for all things Notre Dame. The other is simply an apologist for anyone who has ever appeared on-air so it really isn’t surprising.

Weis got what he deserved—except for the fact that Notre Dame still has to pay him $18 million. That part is just sad.


One last note for the day: In a major non-surprise the folks who run the tennis Grand Slams yesterday fined Serena Williams $82,500 for her outburst at a lineswoman during the U.S. Open and gave her a stern talking to: as in, ‘do this again and you could be suspended.’

Yeah, right.

Let me allow my pal Mary Carillo, who is more worthy to comment on this than I am (or anyone else) explain exactly what happened. This is what she wrote in an e-mail yesterday to The Washington Post’s Liz Clarke:

“Serena Williams physically threatened and verbally assaulted an official during one of the most watched tennis matches of 2009 and after three months of considered cogitation the Grand Slam Committee came up with ‘Grand Slam Probation and a ‘suspended ban?’ And half of what was deemed to be her fine? Boy, that ought to show everyone.”

Carillo’s summation: “It was a cockamamie decision.”

Mary grew up in Queens with John McEnroe. She knows a “you can NOT be serious,” situation when she sees one. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Mary should be the commissioner of tennis. She’s smarter than every person with authority in the game—smarter than all of them combined.


rashad said...

Did Ms Carillo speculate as to what she thought a fair penalty would be?

Glen said...

John - shouldn't you feel the same way about Weis's departure as we Michigan fans felt about John Cooper leaving OSU? What are the odds that Navy can beat the next ND coach?

Anonymous said...

I am an admitted Tiger fan. He is my favorite current athlete. I would rather watch him play golf than watch anyone or anything else (except perhaps my beloved alma mater's basketball team). I find him charming and funny, even if it is all completely planned and staged. I want him to win every week, and I'm someone who has always hated Notre Dame, the Yankees, etc... because everybody liked them and they always won. But for some reason Tiger is different. I took my 3 young children to the 3rd round of the PGA this summer just so I could tell them one day that we all watched Tiger together.

I fully understand that his is a carefully crafted commercial image. I am not naive. But at the same time, I have always wanted to believe that away from the course he really is a good guy. I don't blame him for wanting his privacy, given his celebrity. I don't fault him for most of how he handles himself. I wish he'd sign more autographs and such, but I really don't blame him for that. Almost no sports star scandal surprises me anymore. I constantly tell my friends, and kids I work with (I work at a church as a youth minister) not to look up to athletes as role models, and to remember that we only know who they are on the field\court\ice.

But with Tiger, I find myself wanting to believe. Maybe because he and I are the same age. Maybe because I have a friend who knew him at Stanford, and said he was such a great guy. Maybe because I want to believe golfers are different than basketball, football or baseball players. Maybe because golfers don't wear helmets, and I can stand right next to Tiger on the ropes and see every expression on his face when he plays. Maybe because he had his daughter not long after I had mine. Maybe because I would read his quotes about fatherhood, and they could have been quotes that I had about my kids. My favorite Tiger moment is not any golf shot, but on the green after beating Rocco in the US Open, when after holding his daughter, he gave her back to his wife, and she frowned and tried to dive right back to her daddy. For about 2 seconds, he had this look on his face of a father. He loved that kid. She wanted him to hold her. It was such a great moment, and any father (or mother) could identify with it.

I hope the rumors of an affair are not true, not because I am afraid of being disillusioned about my favorite athlete, but I so badly want him to be a good person. I want to believe that you can be great and not be a complete jerk. And yes, I know that's naive. But Tiger doesn't owe me any answers.

Anonymous said...

When I heard Swarbrick talking about the gulf between perception and reality, I thought he was talking about Weis’ perception that he was a good head coach.

I don’t think it’s sad that Notre Dame has to pay Weis another $18 million. That is what they deserve for extending him when they did. They should have been much smarter than to fall for Weis’ manipulation. It seems to me that they could have made a few phone calls to find out if there were other employers contacting Weis.

Regarding Tiger, I don’t care all that much about the situation. Whether or not he explains what happened is irrelevant to me and whether or not I’ll continue to watch the amount of golf that I watch. But I’m probably not the typical golf fan. The only golf I watch is the majors so Tiger missing some inconsequential tournament in December or January? I couldn’t care less.

The only thing I care about regarding this domestic situation is that his kid is not in any danger. As long as that is true, then I couldn’t care less about anything about Tiger’s private life. I also don’t think he’s obligated to talk about it. I think the only thing an athlete owes the public is his best effort on the playing field. I guess my standards have been lowered over the years because it seems the more we know about many of these guys, the less attractive they become.

John Stroker said...

Do I care if Tiger had an affair? No, more people do than we care to admit. It's good rubbernecking gossip, but will not change my opinion.

But, his silence show disrespect for my intelligence. Be honest enough to say some general overviews of what happened. Don't tell me that your wife pulled you unconscious threw three rows of a Suburban and then threw a broken window.

Tiger doesn't owe us this, but if he doesn't respect my intelligence and maturity enough for a general overview, then I naturally, will lose respect for him.

thedean said...

It has been a know fact that people said it would be interesting to see how family life would effect Tiger's golf life. I guess we got that answer today when he bowed out of his own tournament. He does "owe" that coporate sponsor an explaination and he WILL lose endorsements if he is not BANKABLE(maybe he'll show up maybe he won't). I am a Tiger fan but I won't be buying tickets to see him if he MAY NOT show up! Tip of the iceberg?

qtlaw24 said...

I've been a huge fan of Tiger's since his electric victories in the US Amateur. I openly root for him at home. But in this latest fiasco, I am looking for some explanation, if nothing else for closure.

Are we owed some explanation? Maybe, simply because of that's the trade off for fame; or maybe simply if the famous want the adoring public to avoid speculation.

Hiding under the "no legal obligation to speak" is wrong and fuels more speculation. Those who make unfathomable sums for being in the public eye should understand that they make those $$$ not simply for their athletic feats but also because they are going to be subject to intense scrutiny. That's the price. If you don't want to pay that price, then you stay an amateur like Bobby Jones did.

Anonymous said...

I know this is getting WAY ahead of the situation, but is there any thought that if the spotlight continues to shine, if credible women come out talking of relationships, etc, that Woods takes a hiatus from golf longer than a normal offseason?

Essentially, from everything the media and reports say, Tiger values his privacy and cocoon above all us. That privacy veil is quickly evaporating and probably would damage his ability to do his job as he desires. At some point, at least for a small time, does he say 'screw it, Ill show them. I'm out...see ya later"?