Jocks Who Fail, And The Fans Who Can't Love Them Fans seem to expect more from athletes than from actors. If you need proof, just compare the fallout from Tiger Woods' transgressions with that of, say, Charlie Sheen. Frank Deford says that sports fans admire athletes in a different way.
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Jocks Who Fail, And The Fans Who Can't Love Them

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Jocks Who Fail, And The Fans Who Can't Love Them

Jocks Who Fail, And The Fans Who Can't Love Them

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next, lets talk about what happens when famous athletes gets knocked off their axis by a scandal. Commentator Frank Deford thinks they are held to a higher standard than other celebrities.

FRANK DEFORD: Charlie Sheen, the star of the popular sitcom Two And A Half Men, was involved in a domestic violence episode in December and is now in rehab. Perhaps you've also heard tell about a famous athlete who has suffered somewhat of the same experience over these past few months. What I find interesting, though, is that Charlie Sheen has issued no apology whatsoever, nor has there been any hue and cry that he conduct a public press conference, answer all and sundry questions, and jolly well explain himself to the indignant entertainment media - or else.

Now granted, Tiger Woods is a whole lot bigger in his profession than Mr. Sheen is in his. But these two current examples are quite representative of how differently athletes and other celebrities are valued. When an entertainment figure - be it Sheen, David Letterman, Li'l Kim, whomever - gets in trouble, there's plenty of publicity, of course, but the star's offense never seems to reflect on his whole profession.

Not so with naughty athletes. Their sins invariably are taken to reflect on sport, especially their sport. Nowhere have I read that Sheen has been criticized for damaging the professional life and livelihood of the many people who work on his TV show. But, for example, when Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards was suspended for stupidly exhibiting an arsenal of firearms in the locker room, much of the condemnation directed at him related to the fact that he had selfishly hurt his team. Being in an individual sport, the accusations against Woods are larger, that he has blemished the whole sport of golf. Now that he has put on the hair shirt and is off attending to his personal plight, the overriding question has become: How can he make it up to golf?

Well, leaving aside the rather significant fact that by virtue of his genius and past popularity, Woods has given to golf far more than he could ever harm it with his personal irresponsibility, what does he, what does any athlete, owe his sport any more than any other employee owes his profession? The answer, by all accounts, seems to be: a lot more. So when an athlete like Woods fails as a human being, we respond more with anger than disappointment that he has dared tarnish something that we do so adore. It's almost as if we expect politicians and entertainment celebrities to be venal and flawed, but despite all historical evidence to the contrary, we keep expecting better from athletes. We keep saying that Tiger Woods has let golf down because we don't want to admit that he has let us down.

INSKEEP: We hold commentator Frank Deford to the highest standard each Wednesday, here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

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