Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

For Tiger Woods, The Only Thing New Is The Focus

Tiger Woods on the 17th tee with a No Cameras sign behind him, in Shanghai i i

hide captionA Burst Bubble: Tiger Woods may find himself wishing that golf courses' rules against cameras and cell phones were extended to his personal life.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Tiger Woods on the 17th tee with a No Cameras sign behind him, in Shanghai

A Burst Bubble: Tiger Woods may find himself wishing that golf courses' rules against cameras and cell phones were extended to his personal life.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Forgive me, but I shall begin by being terribly cynical: Never be surprised when any athlete is found to be a philanderer. It was, surely, as true with the Greek Olympians of antiquity as it is today — an occupational predilection.

Athletes are young and rich and they have magnificent bodies and they travel — all of which is the perfect recipe for temptation. Yes, indeed, many young stars do manage to avoid the blandishments of the road, but spare yourself disappointment and just don't assume when it comes to any of your heroes.

Tiger Woods? He's been so private, he was nearly inscrutable. Why did we dare presume to think we knew him? Just for openers, it's absolutely confounding, in this day and age, that he, a celebrity of his magnitude, could have been so brazen to think that he was insulated from the tabloid press.

After all, why should anyone in sport be any more exempt from the prying eyes of the tabloid press than others in the entertainment community? The business of reporting on famous private lives is now insatiable.

So far as I can tell, the only two specialties in journalism that are expanding today are gossip and sports statistics. Well, we get the kind of journalism we deserve. And the tabloid media succeed so well because they are protected by what we might call the First-and-a half Amendment: a combination of freedom of the press and the right to shoot from the hip.

It is true, of course, that celebrity journalism is slanted toward a female audience, while sports appeals more to males. So, as a commercial consequence, there is nowhere near the prurient interest in athletes as there is in show business folk — until they cross over from the green grass into the realm of the red carpet.

The gossipteers didn't give a hoot about Alex Rodriguez when he was simply winning MVP awards or was knee-deep in a steroid scandal — but as soon as he started merely going out with an actress, he advanced into a different league altogether. See also Beckham, David; and Brady, Tom.

The sports media are caught betwixt and between. In the innocent past, it was rather a gentleman's rule of thumb that an athlete's off-the-field behavior should not be the subject of coverage unless it appeared to affect his performance on the field.

To quote the young poet Muhammad Ali, in support of this policy: "Only the nose knows where the nose goes when the door[s] close."

But as the tabloids widen their reach into sports, it may be rather more difficult for sportswriters to keep on ceding a part of their beat to the celebrity hounds. For purposes of comparison, the political media have, after all, become much more engaged in reporting on the private lives of public officials.

Tiger Woods may well be the most famous athlete in the world, and the revelations about him have been altogether exceptional — but his is also a cautionary tale for other athletes today.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford
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