The American public is known for having short memories and being forgiving. Some three years after Tiger Woods’ late night auto accident launched a series of events that led to his public exposure as a habitual womanizer, even while married and father to a small child, Tiger has in some ways fallen on hard times. His wife left him and the couple eventually divorced; the settlement cost him millions of dollars.
Numerous sponsors dropped Woods and his game suffered. He has not won a major since the incident, and his world ranking has slipped, along with his aura of invincibility. Even with all of this, he continues to be a figure of interest.
Television ratings for PGA Tour events are much higher when Woods is in the field. We recently learned that when he plays in events in other countries, he commands an appearance fee of $2 to $3 million. He still has a sponsorship deal with Nike, and his annual earnings remain near the top among world sporting figures.
Now it is being reported that Rory McElroy, the Northern Ireland golfing sensation who won two majors in 2012, has signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Nike reported worth $250 million. So his first television commercial involves, who else, other than himself and Tiger Woods.
Readers can view the commercial by clicking the following link: http://blogs.golf.com/presstent/2013/01/rory-mcilroy-tiger-woods-nike-tv-ad.html?sct=hp_t2_a10&eref=sihp.
Two years ago, there was talk that Woods was done as a paid spokesman for products and as a public spokesperson. Time apparently heals all wounds. If you can still play a sport at the top level, it seems that over time people will tune back in.
The case of Ray Lewis is another example. As he moves along through the National Football League (NFL) playoffs on his farewell tour to his 17-year career, he is being lionized by the media and public. Virtually forgotten in all of this is the fact that in late January 2000, Lewis was present outside of an Atlanta nightclub when a fight broke out that resulted in a man being stabbed to death. Lewis was right there and in fact was splattered with blood.
Lewis was indicted on two counts of murder. He had fled the scene of the incident and his bloody clothes were never found. Lewis wound up seeing the murder charges dismissed and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge. He did agree to testify against two defendants in the matter; but they were acquitted. At the time many people believed that Lewis knew a lot more than he admitted to.
What these two examples may indicate is that in America the concept of sport ethics is ephemeral and probably not foremost on many people’s minds. The ultimate value in the minds of many sports fans is winning. Success on a playing field seems to be able to overcome personal transgressions.
Lance Armstrong is being interviewed on January 13 by Oprah Winfrey for a show that will air on her OWN cable network on Thursday, January, 17. It is being reported that Armstrong will admit in some fashion to doping during his seven years of riding to victory in the Tour de France bicycle race. Armstrong is gambling that the American public will, over time, treat him as it has Tiger Woods and Ray Lewis.
A compassionate society will grant people second chances. It just seems that we do not ask for much from our sports heroes in the way of contrition before we elevate them again to a pedestal. As a society, we may be guilty of rationalizing away behavior in a way that we tell our kids is not appropriate. Maybe winning is everything.
Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. The Academy curriculum at all levels demands that its students focus on the ethical issues surrounding sport. Readers can get more information about these programs by going to http://ussa.edu.