In watching the drip-by-drip accounts of Tiger Woods major league infidelity - not to mention new reports linking a doctor he used to HGH - I am reminded of the disclaimer on side-view mirrors of cars: "Objects in mirror are larger than they appear." In the case of professional athletes, a similar disclaimer should be issued, something in the form of "These people are not who they appear to be."
The reality that Tiger Woods is not who he appeared to be in public is hardly surprising. The only surprise is that the real Tiger was kept hidden for so long. As one of the most recognized athletes in the world, did Tiger really think that cocktail waitresses and porn "actresses" would really stay quiet about their rendezvous with the Tiger? The fact that it took a Thanksgiving night accident while he was running from his newly knowledgeable wife to start the news cycle is perhaps the most shocking part of this whole, pardon the pun, affair.
Let's review what we learned about some of our "heroes" of the sporting world over the last year or so.
• The star quarterback for the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers - Ben Roethlisberger - is the defendant in a civil suit alleging sexual assault, a suit that a judge refused to dismiss.
• The star player for the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers - Kobe Bryant - went through a rape trial after his admitted adultery with a woman in Colorado.
• Two of the stars of the World Series champion New York Yankees - Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettite - admitted to use of performance-enhancing drugs prior to the season.
• Andre Agassi just penned an autobiography that detailed his use of crystal methamphetamine and use of hairpieces.
And these are just a few of the stars in the news recently.
The bigger question about all of this is: As sports fans, do we care? As someone who has worked in the business of professional sports on the agent side and the team side, I have long since become desensitized to the personal failings of these athletes that many hold in high ethical regard. In fact, one of my reasons for leaving the agent business is the fact that many times agents are asked to look the other way or facilitate and enable players to act as they do.
Although my opinion is one of someone perhaps overly cynical of the images portrayed, my sense is that the desensitization process has started to infiltrate an increasingly younger audience. As a professor of Sports Business and Law at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, I have surveyed my classes about their opinions on these indiscretions, whether by Tiger or others. The overwhelming response from the students is, "We don't care." The sentiment is that Tiger's issues were between him and his wife. Indeed, some students - even undergraduates under 20 years old - reacted to news of Tiger's trysts with shrugs, wondering only when we would see him next on the golf course.
I think that--this state of being jaded--is where we are when it comes to these athletes and entertainers. We want to enjoy their exploits on the field, the court, the diamond, the course, etc. We want to digest our sports as distractions from the sobering reality of the rest of the news. We want to read about the off-the-field fodder and Google pictures of the long line of Tiger's mistresses.
However, when it comes to taking these matters seriously, we want no part of it. We want the swirl surrounding the personal life pushed aside when it comes to our patronage of the games. The actual competitions are the funhouses, the kiddie corners, and the only times we can take these athletes seriously. Sure, we want Tiger to take some time making nice with his wife and his sponsors, but we don't want Tiger to miss the Masters.
Yes, I know this is rather cold but it is real. As Don Henley sings, "This is the end of the innocence."