Hold the applause for Tiger Woods.
The American professional golfer won The Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, on April 14 to large received praise from the public. It was the fifth Masters win for Woods and his first major tournament win in 11 years following the professional and personal issues that slowed his game and ranking in the golf world.
Many around the world were quick to hoot and holler for the athlete, but let’s take a step and back and recount why it has taken so long for Woods to appear victorious again.
Woods showed skill and promise in the early years of his career when he turned to a professional career in the sport at the age of 20. He signed lucrative deals with Nike and golf brand Titleist and won his first major in 1997 at The Masters. Woods was 21 when he became the tournament’s youngest winner.
In the following years, he would go on to win major tournaments in the PGA Tour and was considered the top golfer in the world for many years winning the four major tournaments in professional golf: The Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship. He would hold the top ranking for a total of 683 weeks or 13 years.
Things changed in November of 2009.
The National Enquirer published a story on Nov. 25, claiming an affair between Woods and a nightclub manager, Rachel Uchitel. The affair was denied by Uchitel. Two days later, Woods crashed his Cadillac Escalade SUV into a fire hydrant, tree and several bushes outside his Florida mansion following an argument with his wife, Elin Nordegren.
In the following days, several women would come forward with proof of affairs with Woods, and he would eventually issue a statement announcing “an indefinite hiatus” from professional golf citing personal family issues. Woods and his wife of six years, Nordegren divorced in August of 2010.
As a top ranked athlete, Woods had countless sponsorship deals with top companies like Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and Tag Heuer, who all ceased their deals with him following details of the countless affairs.
Woods’ public image was going down the drain. No reputable company with millions of customers wanted to be associated with him.
As someone who had golf consistently playing on their television on Sunday nights, I grew up watching Woods win tournaments one after the other. My dad admired Tiger’s game but when details of his personal life came to light, something changed.
He wasn’t the athlete people could look up to anymore.
It can be argued that a public figure’s private life isn’t important or relevant to the public but in the case of Woods, it was.
For a professional, successful African-American athlete in a predominantly-white sport with multiple record-breaking wins and achievements to be unfaithful to his wife in such a careless manner was earth-shattering for fans, family and the sport of golf itself.
It’s discouraging to see articles like one published by USA Today following Wood’s recent win at the Masters that completely leaves out the infidelity by Woods and embarrassment of his wife.
USA Today sports reporter Charlie Curtis wrote, “And this is all in play after the greatest comeback in sports history — from what unfolded after his SUV crash to the seemingly endless back surgeries, to the time off necessary to heal to the tinkering with all facets of his game to account for the toll the game has taken on his body.” The scandal is mentioned in vague terms with more emphasis on the physical issues Woods has endured in recent years.
Sports scandals happen all the time and can sometimes be damaging enough to end careers.
Former football player Ray Rice had his contract terminated with the Baltimore Ravens and was suspended from the league following video released that showed him beating up his fianceé in an elevator.
Scandals of all shapes and sizes are not only damaging to the player and those around them but to the sports they play. Scandals can determine the public perception of sports for years to come. The use of steroids among high-profile professional baseball players like Barry Bonds has stuck to the reputation of the sport for years.
Elin Nordegren will forever be seen as the ex-wife of Tiger Woods, the woman who was married to a man who cheated on her consistently and whose marriage would fall apart in the public eye. Nordegren’s reputation has been affected by this. Tiger Woods has been able to saunter back onto the golf course with his troubles behind him. I don’t think the same can be said for Nordegren.
As Woods finished the 18th hole at Augusta National Golf Course at the Masters, the sports commentator proclaimed: “Here it is. A return to glory.”
You can not return to glory when you have done so much emotional harm to those around you.
Wood’s two children, Sam and Charlie, watched on as their dad won his first major in 11 years. I wonder how they will feel as they get older and come to understand his actions in 2009. As his children, they will be hurt by his actions.
Woods’ career will be one that will be recounted for years and years to come as the game of golf continues to be played.
He will no doubt be inspiring to young African Americans who dream of playing golf courses around the world and winning titles and prize money.
What should not be inspiring is how he conducted himself off the course.
It should also not be forgotten.