Now that Tiger Woods’ idiotic escapades have been flushed onto the world stage, a sort of sports circus clown circle is almost complete. The PGA has always represented professionalism and what has been know always as a “gentleman’s sport” virtually flawlessly. Now, even though Jack Nicklaus and other classy gold legends are being prodded to cut Tiger some slack, golf stands as another pinnacle of athletic endeavor dragged into the ring by clowns. This, today, is the state of sports public relations.
Ric Flair and Professional Wrestling
Ric Flair has held various professional wrestling titles including 1981–1986 NWA Champion, which was probably the most credible in a sport which came to define the way all sport is played out on the world stage. There has been much controversy over the insistence of professional wrestling is a genuine sport rather than an elaborate song and dance. The almost unimaginable popularity of the “sport” however, propelled stars like Flair into the world spotlight. Fair and his contemporaries eventually became “cult heroes”, especially for kids. Any reasonable person would notice however, that a 300 pound man landing on a competitors head from 10 feet in the air is “unrealistic”, especially if the opponent gets up. It should however be noted in Flair’s case (and some others) that he was an extraordinary athlete just to perform this “dance” as he did. Sadly, Flair’s and pro wrestling’s universal charm spread to so many other sports, and as you will see, with rather negative results.
NBA Basketball PR
Professional basketball, it can be argued, has always showcased the greatest athletes in the world. The combination of skills needed from endurance to strength, speed, agility and beyond is quite unique in all sport. These athletes, set in other endeavors, could surely compete at the highest levels. The sport used to be a class act with stars from Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russel to Magic Johnson and the incomparable Michael Jordan creating urban legend nightly almost.
Sadly, it now appears Jordan was an appropriate “last hurrah” for basketball. Now we have a three ring big top full of clowns led auspiciously by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. I am not sure which one to use as the “poster boy” for pro sports “sillydome”, so O’Neil will have to do if not for his lost potential – then for his ability to munch hamburgers. Their call to “clowndome” being sitting the bench instead of participating in the Olympic Games (among many other circus performances). All I will say about this is that if Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson had been given this opportunity, they would have played in London during the blitz.
Professional football has always had its “clowns.” But, being a team sport, and predominantly iconized by real tough guys like Dick Butkus and Jim Brown, somehow the weight of athleticism has always outweighed (maybe even obscured) its down side. Until lately that is. Even mentioning someone like Michael Vick in the same paragraph with those others seems somehow wrong, but I do not have room for Vick to have his own paragraph.
I will not go into his “lion taming” act, just suffice it to say the sewer he drug his team, his sport, and athletics into is a stinky one. There are so many clowns in football now Vick can only rise above them because of his affinity for animal cruelty. Meaning no disrespect to anyone’s sensibilities, NFL Football has been taken over by Homey G Corndog as illustrated in Vick’s posture in the image above.
Professional boxing was the first sport to really follow professional wrestling into the circus world. The catalyst? Don King. This is one of the only categories where a non-athlete represents the sport’s leading clown. The old saying; “Looks are deceiving,” is not true in King’s case. His sullied use of Muhammad Ali and other fighters, control over outcomes (however defined), and arrogant coup de gras in the Buster Douglas – Mike Tyson affair symbolize the very worst in sport.
King’s activities destroyed every shred of credibility for this long lived arena for competition. Boxing has always had a stigma hanging above its legitimacy, and King heaped mountains of perspective dirt upon it in my opinion.
America’s pastime has seen it share of controversial figures from Shoeless Joe Jackson to Pete Rose. However, never before has any sport seen such widespread unethical behavior from its competitors. The steroid issue is widespread in sport obviously, but every sport is not so imbued with facts and figures. Every sport in America does not have the same mystique, almost religious adherence to the “facts and figures” of the matter.
Though Rose and some others tarnished baseball, the biggest clowns ever are the beneficiaries of “tilted” statistics. Since Barry Bonds is at the pinnacle of this national obsession with statistics, it is logical he should be crowned “king of clowns” for a diminished sport. Ruth hit those home runs with a pot belly and a hangover.
Of all the sports in this “three ring circus” Tennis is maybe the least tainted. Perhaps this has something to do with the nature of the game, I do not know. What I do know is, John McEnroe hurt not only his sport, but the collective athletic persona. This supreme talent basically transformed a cultivated endeavor into a side show where even a “titty baby” can be acclaimed a champion.
Sure Jimmy Connors led the way with his tempestuous attitude sometimes, but John convoluted his own legacy and that of sport in as far as his success led to the acceptance of his attitude. Tennis is however, one of the few sports which can possibly climb out of the quagmire.
I am a soccer fan, but not a soccer expert. However, recognizing clowns in sport only requires a little bit of history, some experience as an athlete, and a nose for trouble. Soccer is a fascination case which I have not the time to delve into. The biggest clown, with the most potential for destruction in the 21st Century is FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
I won’t get into allegations of corruption here, I just want to point out one of Blatter’s high wire routines – the 6/5 rule. Limiting the number of foreign players for an international professional sport is ridiculous to the extreme. This is not amateur sport. The team with the “mostest” is the one who should prevail in professional sport, and I do not mean the most clowns.
Track and Field
This is the core athletic genre from which all others are derived. That being said, it is also still primarily an amateur sport. Track may be one of the only sports left which holds any true legitimacy – a hint of its former glory and credibility. Steroids were maybe used here before in any of the other athletic endeavors too, and every venue from the AAU to the Olympics has had its controversy. Like tennis though, this is an individual arena primarily. One which bears out the worth of the individual maybe more than any other. This is why it may survive even with the failure of the athletic establishment to curtail clowns. Of course there are clowns even here. The one who comes to mind is Bruce Jenner. From Olympic greatness to being an actual clown on TV, Jenner has somehow demeaned what it means to be a champion. Maybe he would have been more respectable if he had just been a YMCA manager rather than the clown leader of the Kardashians? Before and After Greatness should be considered for heroes.
Golf, the Final Threshold
The gentlemanly game of golf. What could be more sublime. A different kind of conditioning and training is needed here. A more cultivated and gentile set of skills and dogma is inherent in this game. Greats like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, and later Palmer and Nicklaus thrilled us all. Controlled and sustained force of will and almost hidden violence sustain golf, along with a sort of artistic, almost “chess-like” essence, its limitless charm. The game is about perfection really. Arnie and his “Army”, the “Golden Bear”, “Slinging Sammy Snead”, and now whoring Tiger Woods! I need not say more. Tiger Woods has now completed what seems like an inevitable circle of clowns. Clowns where once giants walked, this is how I think of it. Woods, no matter what else he ever does, will have put a shadow on all sport. In a world where so little is perfect, there is the hope of perfection – this is what some feel on the golf course – Woods could have been a god.
Under the Big Top 2010
So there we have it. An almost complete circle of mediocrity in an athletic world where pure excellence was once the legend. Thousands, no tens of millions of little kids on over the eons hitting a cup with a stick, chasing one another in mock Olympic competition, a million Jerry Wests or Michael Jordans shooting that last second hoop – the names dropped in with whispered voices to one’s self on the lonely practice field. If you are reading Tiger, and I know you are, this is why you have to endure so much crap. Being a last hope – even if most do not know you are – is a heavy burden you tossed out the back door of the bar.
This may seem cynical to some, hell – I know it will. The thing is, the pursuit of excellence for a dollar bill will never cut it. Money and all it buys was a byproduct of sport back when. Now, once specimens like O’Neil and all the others sell out for money or primal lust, all their effort is for naught. They lead the next generation into a pit from which the reward cannot be achieved. Ric Flair, unlike all the others, may be the most honest of the lot.
A fine athlete who found a place where personality was as important as performance – an actor really. I think even he would admit this. As for Woods and his contemporaries? Barry Bonds may epitomize their legacy – he would have been better off to be 4th best clean. Soon the schoolyards and ball fields may fall silent – and then an ancient rumor will fly in on the wind for some little kid – The Big Dipper, Magic, Hammerin Hank, Pele……be like Mike. It might have been Tiger.