Image is everything. Isn't that what Andre Agassi had us believe
while he was pimping cameras for Cannon in the late 80's? He was
the rebel, the anti-establishment tennis player who dressed up in
acid-washed shorts, neon-trimmed clothing, and had that punk
Despite never having won much of anything early in his career,
sponsors and the public bought into that image, which helped Agassi
become an instant millionaire. It wasn't until years later that we learned
everything about that image was fraudulent, right down to the hair,
which was really a wig.
Tiger Woods? He had the perfect image that helped him become the
richest athlete on the planet. He was just about universally loved and
respected. Remember those staged photos Tiger sent out of his family
and dog? Aw, they were so cute. We all bought into them. Tiger was
the ultimate husband and father. Little did we know that as soon as the
photographer said, "That's a wrap", Tiger was headed down to Perkins
for a grand slam breakfast and a side order of waitress.
The list of great athletes gone bad goes on and on. Arnold Schwarzenegger?
We admired him for his rags to riches story. A world-class bodybuilder who
could hardly speak two words of English when he arrived in this country,
rose to prominence as a blockbuster actor and a politician. Turns out he
isn't much different than Tiger Woods.
Rick Pitino? He was the coach in the Armani suit who wrote
best-selling books, commanded big money for speaking engagements, and
was considered a basketball messiah and good family man. That image
was shattered when Slick Rick had a sexual tryst with a woman not his
wife on the floor of a restaurant after hours.
The Pinocchio Hall of Fame is getting crowded with the recent inductions
of Jim Tressel and Bruce Pearl. These men of "integrity" who demanded
that their players be honest and forthcoming, couldn't do as they said, and
turned out to be frauds. The jury is still out on Lance Armstrong.
The media, the sponsors, the public...we are all guilty of putting these
athletes on pedestals. We worship, deify, and admire these people just
because they are blessed by god with jaw-dropping talent. Our kids idolize
them because they can throw a ball 98 miles an hour or can hit a ball out
of Yellowstone Park.
The majority of these athletes and coaches are not the people we
thought they were. Most are self-centered, self-absorbed people,
who feel the world owes them something. Some of them like Tressel,
manufacture squeaky clean, holier than thou images. The Ohio State
football coach was impeccably dressed and always said the right thing.
Turns out, Tressel and his sweater-vest are not bullet proof. He got
caught lying and was exposed as a fraud.
We thought they were different from the rest of us because they were blessed
with talent most of us can only dream about having. But they are not special.
They are no different than all of us with faults, blemishes, and susceptible
to making life-altering mistakes.
It's time that we stop building these athletes up, knowing full well they
will be torn down at some point. We want to have our heroes, players like
Derek Jeter, who so far, is who we thought he is. We had our heroes in the
past, players who were built up to mythical like figures, like Mickey Mantle.
It turned out he was not the guy we thought he was. Sadly, not many of the
athletes we admire, adore, and idolize, ever are.