Friday, December 18, 2009

• Tiger Woods – The Hazards Of Assumptions

The floodgates on Tiger Woods news opened and cannot be closed, as he remains the biggest story in all media. Notoriety and cash seeking alleged girlfriends surface by the hour, and rare factual tidbits eek out, tantalizing our celebrity obsessions with a daily fix. Are we actually learning anything from the circus that has become Tiger’s life?

To fuel the frenzy, as if that was needed, Associated Press assigned Woods the title of Athlete Of The Decade. This may simply be an attempt to confuse us at to what constitutes either a “sport,” or an “athlete.” Did Lance Armstrong, Roger Federer, Ronaldinho and Michael Schumacher not demonstrate enough dominance in their “game,” or sufficient superiority of character? Probably, but this isn’t about athleticism.

Woods has dominated Golf, and that undeniable fact has brought him acclaim which in turn has imposed the weight of $100 million in annual endorsements onto his life. The current meaning of endorsement is, “pretend you like our products so that those who idolize you will believe you enough to buy them. Your brilliance on the golf course means you are an upstanding, honorable and respected character. Your word is gold.” Well-crafted endorsements are swarmed by expectations, and tinged by assumptions.

The public assumes that if you are supremely great on the golf course, you must also be gifted with other assets such as intelligence, grace, maybe even a little common sense. No chance that you might be narcissistic or self absorbed, and no chance that you believe your own press. Yet, your biggest challenge is your own ego. It is that Achilles heel that will be exploited by your handlers. Whether or not this is Tiger’s problem, his current state of affairs suggests that he should be more attentive to his hired help. Some of his handlers may not be in his camp and more than a few might truly not wish him well. It doesn’t take a genius to predict that the public will soon be pandered with the required dose of apologetic “addiction” treatment, and sorrowful wistfulness of divorce proceedings as we witness “damage” control. His family, his children, don’t deserve the kind of exposure they will have to endure as they prevail over their uncertain emotional road ahead.

So where does that leave his sponsors? Unfortunately, what we have so far witnessed is not terribly encouraging. Knight, of Nike, has said, "When his career is over, you'll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip, but the media is making a big deal out of it right now." This is not what anyone should expect from the head of major company. No need to analyze the inanity of this perception since there is little ambiguity in the obvious.

We cannot assume that because someone is the CEO of a company, that the position automatically imbues the occupant with wisdom, principles, ethics, or morals. We can hope, but that would be foolish. The insecure egos running some of our Wall Street financial institutions are currently providing ample evidence that such assumptions can be misplaced – and therein lies a lesson on making assumptions about power, wealth and celebrity.

We are also being reminded that we are in charge of our perceptions. We are in control of what we accept, or normalize as appropriate behavior. While we may not be in absolute control of the appropriateness of everything our children are exposed to, we have influence on what we embrace as the mores that will colonize our own lives and theirs.

Regardless what our mainstream media, or the corporate landscape has decided “sells,” wealth and celebrity are not anointments of “right.” The implosion of Tiger’s familial career reminds us that we should be very discriminate in the broader conditioning to which we accede on our percepts. We should unambiguously guard the nature and the influences that we affirm on behaviors – ours and those of our children. The Nikes and Tigers we venerate cannot do that for us.

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