Op-Ed

Woods, Roethlisberger scandals: What happened to good ol’ days?

By Lucas Thomas Posted on Thursday, March 25th, 2010, 3:44 am

I miss the old “SportsCenter” — like it was back in the days of Dan Patrick, Kenny Mayne and Keith Olberman. That was when I could turn on ESPN and see an hour of athletic achievements. “SportsCenter” has been part of my life for years and has gotten me through some difficult times, but now I turn on ESPN and it becomes difficult to convince myself the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” is not another example of decay in our nation’s culture.

Tiger Woods, whose many admitted infidelities are now common knowledge, and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been accused of rape by a female college student in Georgia, are the two people currently being capitalized on by our nation’s media. I use the word “capitalize” because of the media’s tendency to feast on society’s appetite for sensationalism.

Avid sports fans can still remember Tiger Woods before Thanksgiving: a worldwide sports darling and a figure ESPN benefited immensely from covering because of his ability to be a golf superstar. And if ESPN loves anything, it is its superstars. They build them up to be larger than life, like in a five-minute segment scientifically analyzing a LeBron James dunk.

It takes time and repetition to build up an athlete like Woods, which is why I can’t understand why the same people are so happy to tear him down when he acts human. The blame, however, rests on a society that demands to acquire information it has no business knowing, while simultaneously neglecting the issues of actual importance. As long as that demand exists, the people with the ability to supply it will be happy to oblige.

Most of the coverage has portrayed Woods as immoral for cheating on his wife, but the real immorality exists in exploiting these people’s personal lives for profit. What will endure from this story is not the content itself, because when Woods returns to the links and starts winning tournaments again, the attention will shift from his “sex addiction” to debating when he will pass Jack Nicklaus for the most Majors in golf history.

The lasting impact of this story will be the role it has played in shifting our media back to yellow journalism. Look up the term if you don’t know what it is — I only have so much space to write.

The same thing happened to Michael Phelps last year. Ask yourself what is more immoral: a 22-year-old smoking a bong at a college party or taking pictures of said incident and exploiting it for personal gain? It’s free enterprise in its rawest form.

Those people who feel entitled to know how many mistresses Tiger Woods had may see things differently if the notches on their bedpost became public record. The media does not have a right to televise a married couple’s relationship problems. Where is the compassion for Elin Woods, the actual victim in this situation who deserves the basic respect any person would ask for in her situation?

Imagine being constantly reminded and asked about the worst thing in your life. Reporters are attacking Woods and his family like vultures swarming a carcass after the lion has eaten enough. The lion in this case is Woods’ public relations team, which has kept the media relatively at bay throughout the process by filtering questions and putting time restraints on interviews. It seems to be the only way they can maintain any privacy whatsoever for Mr. and Mrs. Woods.

I digress, however, because it has reached the point of acceptance. No signs point to this national epidemic going away. A famous athlete cheating is nothing new (see Bryant, Kobe and Jordan, Michael) and I anticipate it happening again. Sex sells and people love hearing about it.

Maybe that’s because, in some sick way, it pathologically reminds us that these people, despite their athletic gifts and $80 million contracts, err like everyone else. If that means the producers at “SportsCenter” must devote 30 minutes of an hourlong highlight show to telling me the details of Ben Roethlisberger’s whereabouts in order to satisfy that craving, then I can make that sacrifice. Just don’t do it at the expense of the “Top 10 Plays.”