Has Tiger Woods become the paragon of virtue and is that why he won the Augusta Masters? Is it really his redemption? Do his wife and all the women he has wronged feel that he has redeemed himself for his past sins by winning? Does victory forgive everything? Or forgiveness lead to victory?
It is a fantastic performance to win at 43, after coming back from emotional and physical strife, but to read into Tiger’s performance all kinds of Biblical and spiritual themes is stretching it. That, however, is one of sport’s most enduring images — the outsider surprising everybody, the fallen champion gritting his teeth and rising to new levels. Sports lives on myths like that. And the outsider Tiger has now risen to new levels.
We want our sportsmen to be the epitome of good behaviour, example-setters, heroes who inspire as much by the way they conduct themselves as for what they do on the field. This is fair. What is not fair is the expectation that all sportsmen ought to be example-setters and inspirers. Sports too, like other professions, has had its share of murderers, rapists and those who might inspire by being the opposite of what good behaviour expects.
The great Sri Lankan batsman Sathasivam was suspected of killing his wife as was O. J. Simpson, the legendary American footballer (before he became the symbol of the one who gets away). If Woods had a “sex addiction”, so did a number of sportsmen who, thanks to their performances on the field, discovered, metaphorically speaking, long queues outside their bedroom doors. The footballer George Best sometimes had his team-mates as audience when he discovered women in the dressing room only too willing to participate.
Sex-as-a-game is part of the sporting reality, but the myth we want to continue believing in is that sportsmen are pure as the driven snow. The idea that Woods had somehow sorted out his moral issues and was therefore being rewarded with a fifth Masters title is frankly abhorrent. It diminishes the idea of sport.
In general, the search is to discover the world’s No. 1 golfer or tennis player or sprinter, not the world’s perfect human being who also happens to be the best in the sport.
You can be a louse and yet be a champion; in fact, you can be a louse and yet be a President. Morality has nothing to do with this. All the morality a golfer needs is to ensure he doesn’t cheat on the field; off it, he can cheat, and often does, but the rules are different. If infidelity disqualified a sportsman from his sport, some sports might die out for lack of a sufficient number of players.
It is ironic that the same excited media which tore him down when his marriage ended are now tripping over themselves to resurrect him. Every man deserves a second chance, of course, but perhaps Tiger’s “redemption” says more about the rest of us than it does about him.
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