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Atlantic bloggers Chris Good and Derek Thompson presented us with five reasons they're rooting for Tiger Woods in the Master's this weekend, despite his infidelity to his wife. Here, Eleanor Barkhorn and Heather Horn offer a point-by-point rebuttal explaining why the reasons don't work, and why they're cheering for ABT—anyone but Tiger.
1. You say: "Tiger was boring before; now he's interesting." We say: Doesn't take much for you two, does it? It's possible to be a fan of good drama and still not think Tiger makes the cut. If he was a machine before, he's a machine now—just a machine who cheated on his wife with every hotel hanger-on he could find. There's something disturbing about calling this a "personal struggle" and saying Tiger's infidelity "humanized" him. What makes dramatic heroes so compelling is the humanity they show through hints of noble character and through vulnerability. Tiger has shown neither.
Macbeth is made compelling by his hesitation to do evil, and—at the last—by his complete loneliness, the desertion of all supporters, and, ultimately his demise—the price for his evil. Woods, on the other hand (whom you two want—contrary to Shakespeare's narrative—to succeed, not fail), has a whole team of consultants, coaches, and may well be screwing someone this second. He is being asked to perform well at what he's best at--a game requiring not teamwork but rather complete devotion to personal success. When has this man not demonstrated exceptional facility at taking care of himself? This isn't a personal struggle. This is a PR campaign. And in it, he has the support of those guys worldwide who think cheering for Woods makes them more like him than those who are jealous of him.
Don't kid yourself, and don't shortchange Shakespeare: rooting for Tiger doesn't make you an alpha male, and cheating on your wife doesn't make you a dramatic hero. Macbeth was a dramatic hero. Tiger Woods is a cad.
2. You say: "Tiger, the person, is a jerk. But we're cheering the athlete."
We say: This is by far the strongest of the points presented, but it would be a lot more convincing if you weren't spending the other four points contradicting it. "We cheer athletes for their athleticism," you say. But in your first point you were saying that Tiger the pure athlete was boring—you think he's more fun to cheer for now that he's jerk.
Assuming for a second that this argument, though, is your real argument, and all the rest is just there for the sake of journalistic contrarianism, there's still a problem. The idea of life being separate from sports is tempting: who among us was not entranced by Lance Armstrong powering up the slopes like a superhero, even after he ditched the mother of his children for Sheryl Crow? But even then, most Armstrong supporters had the decency to feel embarrassed about supporting a five-time Tour winner with a dubious personal life.
Why? Because it's not so clear you can separate the athlete from the person completely. Ultimately, if Tiger Woods's talent wins, Tiger wins, and that's the same Tiger who betrayed his wife. It's not clear to us he deserves that extra bit of satisfaction after a paltry five months of making a public show of contrition—which consisted largely of holding a press conference to say he was sorry so he could restart his career. Then too, the Tiger whose talent may win is a public figure. Stories are powerful, and it's not clear that society needs yet another story of a cad who wins it all.
3. You say: "We're rooting for history."
We say: According to this logic, you want Tiger to win because you want this Master's tournament to be historic. Fine. If your goal is to make Sunday, April 11th, 2010, a memorable day, then by all means, root for Tiger. But there are other ways to make this weekend one for the ages: ask out the cute girl you've had a crush on for weeks; start training for a triathalon; call your best friend from grade school whom you haven't seen in a decade. That way, 4/11/2010 will be memorable for being the first day of the rest of your life—not the Sunday an arrogant golfer achieved a great personal victory despite the intense pain he inflicted on others.
4. You say:"He disappeared. We want to know if he'll come back stronger."
We say: This reason also relies on the power of stories. As you say, we're drawn to narratives about people who retreat from society only to return as better versions of themselves—It's the introvert's fantasy. But Tiger Woods is not in the same class of the heroes you offer as examples: Robert Johnson, Superman, and (blasphemy, anyone?) Moses. These men disappeared in order to hone their craft—whether it be playing the guitar, saving the world, or communing with God. Tiger disappeared not as an active choice to improve his golf game; he went away to do penance for cheating on his wife, hurting his family, and disappointing his fans. If he comes back stronger, it will be due to dumb luck or sheer talent—not a transcendent commitment to his sport.
5. You say: "It's fun to root for the bad guy."
We say: Again, see point 2. You can't have it both ways. Either you're rooting for the athlete despite his being a jerk or you're rooting for him because of it. Points 1 and 5 suggest it's the latter. If you really are rooting for Woods because it lets you "cave to [your] own fantasies of selfishness and underhandedness," because a guy who screws as many women as possible, regardless of marriage vows, is kind of cool, then fine. Best, in that case, to mount your defense by citing some pseudo-scientific study about how men are evolutionarily programmed to be jerks. But don't degrade Euripides, Shakespeare, and, for that matter, Superman just because you happen to want some. If you're rooting for a jerk because he's a jerk, the least you can do is admit it.