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Monday, February 22, 2010

What Athletes Can Learn from Tigergate

It's official: Tigergate has reached nauseating levels of overexposure.

So why dignify the latest chapter of this tireless saga with this entry? Frankly, Woods has given us little choice by how poorly he has handled the fallout. Rather than examining whether Woods is sincere in his apology (I'll leave that up to Barbara Walters and The View), we need to warn future athletes who stray off course on precisely how to avoid the next ad nauseum nightmare. The lesson here is simple: in the wake of an extramarital sex scandal, athletes need to learn from Woods' unintended tutorial on exactly how not to deal with the media.

Newsflash: Woods isn't the first athlete to cheat on his wife. Adulterous sports idols are a dime a dozen and we're rarely surprised when news leaks regarding multiple extramarital affairs with cocktail waitresses half their age. Their behavior is expected and arguably condoned in the culture of modern sports machismo.

Need examples? One Michael Jeffrey Jordan was slapped with paternity suits and extortion schemes from alleged mistresses throughout his career. His wife ultimately filed for divorce and was awarded with a record nine-figure alimony parting prize. Despite Jordan's meteoric status this news barely made a ripple in the sports world.

Alex Rodriguez's wife very publicly filed for divorce on the grounds of her husband's repeated infidelities. Yet her public smear campaign garnered little attention beyond local New York tabloids.

So why has Tigergate so transcended his high profile predecessors in infamy? Possible theories include the idea that golf is more an individual "gentlemen's game" which holds it's athletes to higher moral standards. Hogwash. If this is true how can someone such as John Daly continue to be granted sponsors exemptions? Another argument is that evolution of media and blogging enable more platforms for cross-pollination between a gossip based company such as TMZ with the once beloved ESPN. I'll concede that the line between sport and pop culture is blurry nowadays, but let's not forget that "Stray-Rod" tabloids ran less than nine months ago and didn't reach one-hundredth the decibel the Woods story has.

The real reason why Woods has reached Gosselin status is because of the way he's unintentionally baited the media. The silent treatment is an ageless method for flying under the radar but Tiger has rendered it useless because he consistently promises the media he will return and address them again. To make matters worse, he does this after vaguely admitting infidelity, leaving the door open for wild conjecture on the nature (and number) of his affairs.

Woods doesn't owe us a return ticket in front of a million flashbulbs. He doesn't need to provide us juicy details on whether he prefers blondes or brunettes. Drifting in and out of the public eye in any other capacity is hurtful for both him and the sport because he is only attracting more non-sports related media by addressing us off the greens. What he needs to do is come back to the sport when he feels he's ready and face the music back where we got to know him: on the golf course. Sports media will still feel compelled to write about how he's performed post Tigergate but the basis of these stories will center around golf rather than his former mistress landing the lead in the sequel to "Debbie Does Dallas."

It's easy to preach that monogamy is the best way for athletes to avoid future scandals such as these. The reality is many will continue to succumb to temptation and stray from their marriages. The lesson learned is that in the event that you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, do both yourself and sports fans a favor and keep the ball in play. Don't hire clueless PR firms who employ a juicy game of hide and seek with the mass media. Keep it in house in the sports world and as far from the paparazzi as possible.

It's probable that when Woods finally decides to call it quits, Tigergate won't be the first thing we remember about him. But it's important to remember moments like these because we see how vulnerable the sanctity of sport has become. We can all play our part by pretending to look the other way but the ultimate welfare of sport is in the hands of the athletes, not the peanut gallery. Keep your fingers crossed that Woods can pitch himself back onto the fairway so we can enjoy the Masters TMZ free once again.

Tigeragate is brought to you by your loyal friends of Cooper's Sports Picks. Thanks for reading.


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