Seems an unlikely time to vote for him, but the selection of Tiger Woods as the Athlete of the Decade was more about his performance on the course than his transgressions as a person.
The landslide 56 of the 142 votes that Woods received by members of the Associated Press is their way of saying that no athlete dominated a particular sport the way Woods did this decade. Lance Armstrong, Roger Federer, Michael Phelps, Tom Brady and Usain Bolt – any one of them could have won the title had Woods never existed. But in the vote, because Woods exists, they weren t even close.
More importantly, more than half the votes were sent in after the Nov. 27 car accident that set off the sensational tales of Woods infidelity. By now, the salacious details are well known. What began as a mysterious car crash slowly and inexorably morphed into a tsunami sex scandal that will likely tarnish Woods image forever.
But the AP people decided to separate the Tiger from the Cheetah and came up with this conclusion: For 10 incomparable years, no one ruled a sport like Woods. He won 64 tournaments, including 12 major championships, four short of the record held by Jack Nicklaus.
It s not just numbers and it s not just that Woods is a great golfer. He is golf. There are few players who have dominated a sport as Woods has dominated golf. When Woods isn’t playing, the ratings for televised golf slump across the world. Golf fans still watch, but it is Woods first, then the rest.
You think no player is bigger than the game? Think again. Woods is golf and golf is Woods. Few other athletes have changed their sport, from TV ratings to galleries to prize money.
But a new image emerged quickly in the days following his middle-of-the-night accident. How could it be that this perfect golf being could be so imperfect when not playing golf? No one really expected that of Tiger Woods. There has been disappointment and disillusionment.
I never doubted Woods was human. I could tell that he wasn’t from another planet and as such he is not without flaws.
It has been estimated by the business magazine Forbes that Woods has a fortune in excess of $1 billion, more of the money coming from his deals with sponsors rather than from the golf course. To put it another way, his public image and his day job as a golfer are indistinguishable.
Woods’ supporters will doubtless argue that consumers buy products endorsed by Woods not just because of his image, but also because of his golf. But so too Woods’ unprecedented earning power is undeniably linked to Woods the family man: safe, clean, upstanding, decent, the kind of boy you would want your son to be like, and your daughter to marry.
Put simply, it is not credible for anyone to trade lucratively on their public image when their behavior (even if behind closed doors) directly contradicts that image.
However, Woods body of work was simply too large to be erased by the human failings that have been exposed.
It has been an astonishing fall from grace. From the height of his powers as one of the most dominant figures in all of sport to humiliation and contrition.
We know now that Woods is not what he pretended to be. But there is no doubt how great he has been.
No one knows when Woods will return to golf, least of all the player himself. He will definitely return but may never be the same player again.
He might one day redeem himself through a show of character. It may also be that we may never again believe anything Woods says.
But remember, the vote was for Athlete of the Decade, not Husband of the Year.