Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tiger should follow Kobe's lead


Here's a little game. Some think-quick questions:

Question: What's the first thing that comes to your mind when I say ... Tiger Woods?

Sample answer: Scandal. Cheater. Idiot. Womanizer. ... Oh, and he's a pretty good golfer, too.

Question: What comes to mind when I mention ... Kobe Bryant?

Answer: One of the NBA's top three players, four-time NBA champion, he finally won without Shaq.

OK, no more games. Here's my point. Right now, and likely for another year or two, no mention of Woods — whether at a business meeting, a cocktail outing or on a party boat — will go without reference to how he completely tarnished his image in the course of two weeks. Regardless of the measures he and his people take to to try to mend his image, the main Tiger conversation will be about his infidelity, his inability to drive out of his driveway and what, exactly, happened involving his beautiful wife, a 9-iron and the back window of his Escalade.

And Tiger deserves all of it. He deserves to be booed at tournaments whenever he returns from his indefinite leave from golf. He deserves to have to answer difficult questions at press conferences and on television. Yes, this is his "private life," but scrutiny of his personal life comes with his fame (along with all those endorsements, cash and black-tie events). Sorry, Tiger.

But there should be, if Tiger can see this far ahead, a place not too far down his career path when Tiger could go back to simply being called the world's greatest golfer and, still a possibility, the best to ever play the game.

Bryant, an athlete of similar fame and achievement, can vouch for such a scenario. In fact, maybe Woods needs to sit down with the Lakers star for advice.

You'd never know it from hearing people casually talk about Bryant today, but six years ago he was in a quagmire similar to Woods' current mess. Quick recap: In the summer of 2003, he was accused of rape. That charge was eventually dismissed, but Bryant admitted to adultery. He had never been exposed for negative off-the-court behavior. No legal issues, no family problems.

Just like that, however, Bryant was despised by the American public. Even after he made the right move by holding a tear-filled press conference in which he admitted his infidelity — I'd advise Woods to hold a similar presser and drop some tears while holding his children at the podium — he was booed and heckled at opposing arenas throughout the 2003-04 season as his case progressed. It was a season from hell for the All Star.

But then the case was dismissed. And the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs. And the lazy days of summer took over.

And by the following fall, the only questions surrounding Bryant were how he'd deal with not playing alongside O'Neal for the first time in his career. Cheating on his wife? A rape charge? ... What??? All in the past. Water under the bridge, kids.

Now, after an NBA title last June, Bryant is once again revered in NBA circles. His teammates love him. His fans absolutely adore him. His jerseys are sold worldwide . His world is one of perfection, almost — kind of like the one Woods inhabited, at least in the public's view, until Thanksgiving.

So, Tiger, I know I'm not one to give you, the man, advice. But it's really simple. If you get back to playing golf and swallow the pills that you deserve. If you find a way to save your marriage and be a good family man (Bryant might recommend a pricey diamond ring; just ask his wife). And if you get back to being the world's supreme golfer and winning majors ... well, that's all anyone will talk about.

And here's the added bonus for you, as you begin this comeback: You play a sport that you can stick with, at a very competitive level, for another 20-plus years. If you do your thing, nobody in 2033 will be talking about your nine (or so) affairs way back in the first decade of the century. PUH-lease! It'll be all about how you broke Jack Nicklaus' majors record with that amazing chip on the 17th hole of the 2016 US Open. And, of course, golf lifers will reminisce about where they were when you won the Open on a broken leg (I'll never forget that I was at a family reunion).

The thing about sports is that they're all about the present. One week, a certain image might capture your attention. The next, you'll have completely forgotten about it thanks to a new amazing moment, a new astounding play.

It'll take awhile for Tiger Woods to get back to being, simply, that amazing golfer (especially while he's on this leave from golf). But after a couple years of dominance on the course, assuming he won't let his personal issues affect his play on the course (he certainly didn't struggle while having these supposed affairs), Woods will return to his old self.

And be thought of as his old self. In other words, Tiger Woods the golfer — not Tiger Woods the very flawed person.


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