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Tiger Woods, Pat Summitt and Cynicism
Pat Summitt is the winningest coach in NCAA college basketball history. She has coached the Tennessee Lady Vols to 1098 victories over 38 seasons. She has won 8 National Titles and 16 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Titles, been named the SEC coach of the year 8 times and the NCAA Coach of the Year 7 times. She has been credited with bringing Woman’s Basketball into the mainstream and positively influencing the lives of two generations of women who played for her and countless others.
I can’t claim to know anything about Woman’s Basketball, and only a little about Pat Summitt. But I was watching the ESPY Awards last week on ESPN when Summitt was awarded The Arthur Ashe Courage Award. She had retired last year after being diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimers Disease. ESPN broadcast an interesting and uplifting clip of highlights from her career. About midway through this clip an ugly thought entered my head : “Has she done anything illegal, immoral, unethical or against NCAA rules to keep her program going and her legacy intact?” Normally I wouldn’t even think of something like this, but the recent events concerning the Penn State Football program have made me, and likely millions of others, cynical.
We are cynical about anything or anyone that is presented to us as good, moral and virtuous. The media loves to tear down the mighty and show us the flawed institution or person beneath the curtain. And we love to see it. A perfect example is Tiger Woods. Woods, with 74 PGA Tournament wins (16 Majors) he is among the greatest Golfers in history. This talent, good looks and his reputation as a hard working, moral, and personable golfer made him a hero and role model to millions. It also made him the ideal pitchman. He has been paid hundreds of millions of dollars to advertise Nike, Buick, Accenture, Gatorade, Gillette and others.
It all fell apart in late 2009 when it was discovered he was a philander. At least a dozen attractive women came out of the woodwork and told us about their dalliances with Tiger.
Woods was criticized by media outlets world wide. Journalist, pundits, and normal people (many of which had previously only a passing knowledge of who Woods was) lambasted and slammed him, ruining his reputation . Tiger lost his picture perfect family, had to take a break from golf and lost a few sponsors. He has returned to the links, but he is not the golfer he was before. (This wasn’t all the media's fault, Woods has to take most of the blame) It’s going to be a while before another talent like him comes along. And as soon as he (or she) shows cracks in their armor, we will pounce on them.
The issue of steroids in sports (baseball especially) is another example of how cynical we have become. After a decade of seeing (and enjoying) baseball players like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez hit many moonshot home runs, we immediately turned against them when it was discovered they had a little “help”. When we see a small man report to Spring training 30 pounds heavier and more muscular, our suspicions are immediately aroused. When that same person hits 20 more homers this season than last season, we think “steroids” In the past when Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron, Willie Mays or others hit that many homers we thought talent and nothing else. Today it is different.
The Catholic Church is another victim of this cynicism. Within the last 20 or so years it became apparent that a very small percentage of priests were pedophiles. The Church, in a series of decisions that will haunt them for years, decided to relocate these criminals instead of turning them into the authorities. As a result, priests are now looked upon very suspiciously. This is not fair. With so many options, it takes great dedication and sacrifice for a man to go in to the priesthood today. Those who are in it today know well of the reputation and feelings of the general public and are very careful not to make the same mistakes a few of their predecessors made.
This all brings me back to Pat Summitt. As I mentioned earlier, I know very little about Summitt. But I had not heard anything bad about her and my research didn’t reveal anything untoward. I’m sure her status on the Tennessee campus was similar to Joe Paterno’s at Penn State. It’s likely she wielded a lot of power. But there is no indication that she misused it for her own gain or to protect her legacy. It was quite unfair of me to wonder if she was in the same boat with Paterno or other successful, yet corrupt coaches.
Despite all this I still believe a person or institution can be virtuous, moral, and a good influence. .But they will always have to be wary of people who will try to bring them down. It’s a shame doubt will never be far behind. The Osmonds were wrong; One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.