PEBBLEBEACH, Calif. — At the end of Nike’s black-and-white ad featuring Tiger Woods that premiered a couple of weeks ago, the voice of Earl Woods, Tiger’s beloved father, asks, “Did you learn anything?”
I hope so. Because apparently America’s golf fans and sportswriters didn’t.
Phil Mickelson crushed Augusta last week on his way to a third Masters title and was penned up as the anti-Tiger. He celebrated with his wife Amy and their family on the 18th green, a fitting end to a wonderful story about Phil taking time away from the course to support his wife after she was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer.
However, in pretending the second coming of the Lord was occurring on the fairway last weekend, the media and fans ignored the most important lesson of the Tiger scandal: No athlete, no matter how infallible they seem, is more than human. And humans, by nature, are flawed-up little snowflakes, all broken in their own special way.
And of all people, we’ve decided Mickelson is the Angel Gabriel to Tiger’s fallen Lucifer or, to keep on the links, the Danny Noonan to Tiger’s Judge Smails?
Hate to break it to you, but Phil has always been considered a jerk by PGA Tour coworkers.
In fact, in 2006 (notably before his wife’s battle with cancer) GQ had Phil listed as No. 8 on its list of the top-10 most hated athletes, as voted by their peers. The article is still online and of course the quotes used in it are kept anonymous, but the message is clear with this quote: “There are a bunch of pros who think he and his whole smiley, happy face are a fraud,” a (PGA Tour) reporter says. “They think he’s preening and insincere.”
Also, a quick Google search will tell you why websites like Deadspin.com have designated Mickelson “FIGJAM.” The answer has less to do with fruit preserves than you might hope.
I am by no means comparing being an unlikable, public relations-created goon to being one who would make Tiger’s mistakes. Tiger probably should get divorced and Elin Nordegren deserves to take half of his empire, if only to punish him for being an idiot. And Phil probably isn’t a bad human being just because his coworkers hate him.
But by painting Tiger as the “bad guy” and Phil as the “good guy,” the media and fans are showing they learned absolutely nothing from Tiger’s fall from grace.
We are all human, with some more flawed than others. So making Phil into our ideal of the perfect husband and father is a big mistake.
Phil Mickelson did the right thing in walking away from golf to be with his wife. But if it comes out that he pulled a John Edwards, I wouldn’t be stunned. Outraged, but not surprised. That’s what you get in a new age of Internet and media scrutiny – no more heroes.
I know, the story writes easier if it is just Tiger and Phil – literally black and white. But no athlete belongs on a higher plane than the rest of us. It’s not fair to the athlete and it’s not fair to raise the fans’ expectations of the athlete’s personal life. We are nothing if not shades of gray.