F*ck You, ESPN! Unsolicited advice to people I don’t know on a situation in which I’m not involved

So, Grantland is dead. ESPN played a Halloween trick on us all by sticking a knife in the heart of the home to the majority of the organization’s best quality work. Grantland, if you didn’t have the pleasure, was a sports and pop culture website founded a few years ago and led by former ESPN writer Bill Simmons. It featured unique, long-form journalism and story telling from a deep and varied stable of quality writers. Simmons himself recently joked during one of his newly launched independent podcasts that Grantland had 18 of the 23 best writers employed by ESPN. From where I’m sitting, it was less a joke than a statement of fact.

I’ve been a sports fan for most of my life, and as such, ESPN attracted me with its 24 hour coverage during a time when the alternative was some box scores in a few pages of the local paper. It was Sportscenter, in particular The Big Show days of co-anchors Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, that really hooked me. But as they got more successful, things fell apart between them and the network, and everyone eventually moved on. Sportscenter and ESPN carried on, but a void was created and, as I’ve seen over the ensuing years, a pattern of trouble between the network and it’s top-level talent seems to have emerged.

Grantland brought me back into the fold. Every day, there were multiple quality pieces of writing across a wide range of subjects thrown out into the world. For a sports fan like me, hungry for analysis deeper than the basic stereotypical columns and studio shows that proliferated the sports media landscape, it was a godsend. Writers like NBA aficionado Zach Lowe, the great NFL duo of Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays, pop culture superstar Wesley Morris and, of course, Simmons himself, with his lengthy, footnote laden and often simultaneously insightful and funny pieces, made Grantland a home for the discerning and knowledgeable sports and entertainment fan.

And then there were the podcasts. I’d often spend hours with the Grantland staff, soaking up Lowe’s NBA chats on his Lowe Post (I’d forever listen to Lowe and former NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy chat about the weather and what they had for breakfast) Barnwell and Mays’ three-times-a-week Grantland NFL Podcast, the spectacularly irregular and hilariously funny NBA After Dark podcast with Chris Ryan, Juliet Litman and Andrew Sharp, former NBA player Jalen Rose and David Jacoby always giving the people what they want on their Pop The Trunk podcast, and Simmons’ BS Report were must-listen material in my house, among many others. That’s all gone now, thanks to some of the most bone-headed corporate decision making I’ve seen. And believe me, I’ve been privy to some spectacularly poor choices.

To be fair, it’s not totally gone. It appears Jalen and Jacoby’s show will continue on ESPN radio. Simmons has moved on with his own independent podcasts, an unnamed and vague “future editorial project” for which he hired a quartet of former Grantlanders, including Litman and Ryan, as well as an HBO show slated to start next spring. And ESPN has said they plan to shift the sportswriters like Lowe, Barnwell and baseball writer Jonah Keri to other platforms under their umbrella. So help me, if they stick those guys behind their Insider paywall, I’ll fucking flip! I love those guys and I’ll do whatever to support them but I’ll be damned if I’m giving so much as a penny to an organization that disrespects both its audience and top talent like ESPN has here.

There are several lessons here, I think. But before I start, let me say I have absolutely no direct knowledge of the financials, the terms of anyone’s contracts or any specifics of the internal power struggles outside of the few tidbits that have come from former Grantlanders. These are my opinions and observations based on what I’ve seen both in watching what was a beloved website crumble and what I’ve seen personally in similar situations. By similar, I mean isolated products under a somewhat disinterested corporate parent who are, themselves, beholden to an uber-corporate giant. The scale of my experiences is smaller than Grantland/ESPN/Disney, but the dynamic is eerily similar. Here goes:

1. ESPN’s management is disrespectful and unprofessional.

Bill Simmons found out he was fired on Twitter. The vast majority of the Grantland staff found out who his replacement was also on twitter. The axe on Grantland fell via press release, blindsiding nearly everyone involved. This is Management Professionalism 101 stuff. ESPN has a duty to the people it employees and to leave them twisting in the wind, discovering details crucial to their futures over social media rather than being informed by their employers is disgraceful. And when it happens multiple times over a period of months, well, can it be any clearer they just don’t give a shit about you? It shows how little they value the people under their umbrella. They’re assets, chess pieces to be shuffled around on the whims of the suits. It’s more important to the company that their employees be kept as much in the dark as possible so as to prevent their ability to prepare if things go badly south. The suits are protecting themselves by screwing people who should be trusted allies. Working for those kinds of people is simply not worth it. Unless you enjoy having to watch your back 24/7 lest somebody jab a knife in there when you’re not looking.

How an organization treats people matters, even if you’re not the one currently getting shafted. It’s a “there but for the grace of god” thing. If they’re willing to treat someone in their employ this way, they’re also willing to treat you the same, if circumstances dictate. If you find yourself working for someone who fucks other employees over, even if you’ve gotten nothing but gold-star service, get out. Maybe you’ll be lucky and never have that target on your back. But most likely, it’s only a matter of time and elements outside of your control before they get around to you. Do yourself a favor and don’t give them that chance.

2. Contracts matter. Always have an exit plan.

I know it seems a bit counter-intuitive to prepare to leave a job before you’ve even got it, but in my experience, failure to do so adequately is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make. That non-compete matters more than you realize. Trust me, you really don’t want to find out how much more when it’s too late to do anything about it. Much like the Grantland writers left behind in ESPN’s employ, you can find your legal binding to a place outlast both why you were hired and the people who hired you. I cringed when I saw that statement from ESPN about repurposing those former Grantland staffers. Been there, done that. Never, ever again.

I do not envy them. There’s a small chance this shift will turn out well for them and an overwhelming one that it turns out poorly. I don’t wish the level of bitterness and misery I’ve seen in similar situations on my worst enemy, let alone some of my favorite writers. ESPN apparently has a policy that none of its talent can appear on outside platforms. Can’t guest on a Fox Sports podcast, for instance. This is asinine. A policy that exists for one reason, they want your success and profile to be entirely dependent upon their platforms. It’s a means of controlling your career (and minimizing your ultimate value). It saves them money at your expense and gets you to keep yourself in check.

Grantland was different. As such, writers like Lowe and Barnwell have built broader positive reputations than would otherwise have been possible from within ESPN-proper. I can almost guarantee that wherever “The Mothership”, as ESPN likes to call itself, sticks them, it’ll minimize the broader appeal and presence they’ve created. Without knowing the terms of their respective contracts with the network, my (completely unsolicited) advice to them would be to move on. Hopefully, they have the contractual ability to do so. You may never have more positive leverage to land a gig you actually want than right now. You almost certainly won’t if you allow yourself to be thrown in as an add-on to other network properties. This looks like a “use it or lose it” choice. Not a simple one, by any means, but one that comes with huge regrets if you fail to pursue it.

3. Grantland is gone. And it’s never coming back.

Every so often, if you’re lucky, you’ll fall into a situation where the right people and the right circumstances will converge with where you are at the time to create a truly unique and rewarding work experience. You can’t predict when one will appear, nor when it all gets taken away, often very unexpectedly on both counts. Once you’ve been through that, it leaves an indelible mark, becoming somewhat mythologized in your own memories, and of those you were in it with.

But when it’s gone, it’s gone. You can chase all you like; seeking out similar-looking gigs, joining up with some of the original cast for new things; but you won’t get what you had back. You may well find other good people and places and situations. But they’ll all be different. Sorta like a first love, you recall it more fondly, at least in part, because you didn’t have the history or experience to understand it as it was happening. Now you do, and as a consequence, you won’t be blazing as many new paths so much as backtracking over more roads already traveled.

Whatever roads the former Grantlanders travel, it behooves them to not chase that Grantland feeling. Simmons new things won’t get you there, writing for ESPN’s other things won’t either. And neither will going to a different platform at another company. Nor founding your own independent thing. All of those options have positive potential outcomes, and could each produce something good, rewarding. They also each carry risks, possible downsides that can’t be ignored. But if you’re looking to replicate the unique thing you just experienced, even subconciously, whatever you do is always going to seem lacking in something. Let yesterday go and let the next thing be what it will.

4. Deal with corporations on a risk/reward basis. Don’t be the one taking all the risks while they get all the rewards.

What seems pretty clear from Grantland’s history is that ESPN both didn’t understand what it had and either didn’t bother or didn’t know how to properly market it. All this talk about the financials relating to the site is really more an indictment of ESPN than Grantland itself. After all, what good is this huge corporate sales infrastructure that’s so demanding of profits if it doesn’t adequately service or exploit quality content at its disposal?

As a fan and outside observer, I was often surprised how little actual promotion ESPN gave Grantland. I would’ve thought, given the audience Grantland garnered, that would be something ESPN would want to push. But here’s the crux of the situation for modern day creatives. Sure, Grantland could have blown up, made the folks working there some nice coin and turned a good profit at the end of the day for The Mothership. And probably not even covered the bill for the rights to a third rate college football bowl game on December 18.

ESPN, and so many of our major media corporations, are in another stratosphere financially. They need billions of dollars every year just to pay the rights fees for the games they broadcast. A comfortable profit for an offshoot like Grantland is a rounding error. So they allow it to exist, until they don’t, but will almost never give it much more than the bare minimum of resources. In their view (the mega-money view) there’s no upside of consequence.

So consider, you’re working for something you believe in, for a company who neither believes in you nor adequately supports what you’re doing. You have three choices; quit, stay and ride it out until they pull the plug, or bust your ass even harder to make up for the resources you’re not being given. I’ve done all three at one time or another and, frankly, the first option is the best one. Riding it out is just sad and depressing; like watching a loved one waste away from some debilitating disease. Doubling down on your effort is self defeating. You’re putting in a ton of work and resources of your own all so the company who withheld those needed resources can reap all the rewards if you’re successful. Maybe, you’ll get some recompense in future considerations. Likely, not much though, if at all. One thing is for sure, when it comes time to cut the check, they’ll find some reason to downplay your success.

So if that’s where you find yourself, move on. Find somewhere you can choose option three and actually be appreciated and rewarded for the results. It’s not going to be where you are, a place that has just demonstrated a tendency to do the exact opposite. Happiness isn’t found in security. Hell, in this kind of business, security doesn’t exist anyway. Working the corporate thing has to be a quid pro quo. It advances your career while advancing their interests. When it turns to advancing their interests at your expense, and it inevitably will, it’s time to get off the treadmill.

5. What to do, what to do…

Given that several Grantland staffers have already simply up and left into new jobs elsewhere, some even to Simmons unnamed whatever, I’ll presume the contracts of those remaining don’t have any kind of onerous, restrictive clauses. Unless, of course, they’ve signed something new very recently. Again, I have no idea, just a presumption. But assuming that, I’d quit before I got shuffled off to some other thing without my consent. Then I’d try to hitch on with Simmons. I know I said don’t chase Grantland, but that’s not why I’d go that way. Simmons is smart, he has connections, he has an upcoming HBO show to raise his profile. And most of all, he’s motivated. Unless I’m way off base, he’s likely pissed off and will channel that with no little consideration given to shoving his future success straight up ESPN’s ass. No, you can never get back what you’ve lost. But you sure can burn the fuckers who took it from you.

But most of all, I’d better understand what I didn’t the first couple times I went through shit like that. You’re not simply an employee of the publication you help produce. Nor simply one of the corporation that owns that publication. You’re an individual. This is your career at stake, not theirs, and act in whatever you feel is in the service of that end. I would better understand that the company, despite how they may behave, doesn’t make the talent. The talent makes the company. ESPN has lost sight of that.

R.I.P. Grantland. You will be missed.

Dan Meadows is a writer living on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. Follow him on Twitter @watershedchron

Extra, Extra! Clever headlines suffering from technology’s limits

As I’ve mentioned, I’m humoring the kid in me who always wanted to be a sportswriter with this website called Bleacher Report.  Well, yesterday, after hearing that Randy Moss was traded by the Patriots, I wrote up an opinion piece stating the Pats coach Bill Belichick was basically bagging this year to get on with the future.  To cap it off, I gave it the headine “No Moss Growing Under Bill Belichick’s Feet”. 

(If you don’t know football, then you probably have no idea who I’m talking about.  But bear with me, I have a point in here that has nothing  to do with sports.)

I was proud of my modest little headline.  It mentioned two of the principles by name in Moss and Belichick, and it was a both a play on Moss’ name and a metaphor for the direction New England was taking as a team.  About as perfect as you can get for a throw-away opinion piece on a sports blogger website.  If I do say so myself, it was also one of the most, if not the most, clever headline I saw on any of the Moss articles.  Bleacher Report has an editor process for each submission.  When I went later to look at my article, I noticed that the editor had slapped a three-word preface on my clever headline;  “Randy Moss Trade:”. 

Now let me say, I understand completely why this was done; three other little words- search engine optimization.  But I still couldn’t help feel that this slight addition for visibility’s sake somehow lessened the original.  Moss’ name, in particular, being mentioned prior to the pun took something away from its impact.  Besides, the article was already tagged every which way, including the phrase “Randy Moss Trade”.  Was it really necessary to sacrifice cleverness and presentation in this, or any other, case?

I say no.  Never once have I penned a headline here for any other reason than to creatively present the piece I had written.  Limiting interesting headlines for search engine optimization is a sacrifice I’m not willing to make, given the choice.  Nor do I think any of us should have to.  Why are we dumbing down the content we produce to accommodate the technology? Instead, we should be making search engines to better catalog and present that content, to suit the standards of the creators.

For an inherently visual and dynamic medium, the internet is still all-too-frequently about long blocks of words.  Certainly, the possibilities for disseminating content are amazing and nearly without limit, but we are giving up some creativity and presentation value in the bargain.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  In fact, it shouldn’t be that way at all.

Put Me In, Coach! My Personal Sportswriter Fantasy

Over the course of the past year since I started blogging here, I would periodically mix some articles on sports into my stream of conciousness.  Well, now I’ve decided to try my hand at it a little more regularly.

To that end, I’ve done a couple of things that will help.  First, I created an entirely separate site just for sports related material.  It’s called Killer Crossover, named in honor of my all-time favorite NBA player, Tim Hardaway, most famous for his years with Golden State and Miami.  But the site won’t be just basketball, it will literally cross over from sport to sport as the mood strikes me.  Right now, for instance, there’s my
preview of week 4 in the NFL, a conference by conference look at the upcoming NBA season, and next up is a look at October baseball.

The other thing I’ve done is sign up with a sports syndication website called Bleacher Report.  If you like sports and haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out.  My articles will also appear on the BR site, but in a much fancier fashion.  With that site, I’ll have access to an archive of images to spruce up my copy, and can create photo and video slideshows on topics of my choosing.  It doesn’t pay (what does these days?) but that’s not really the immediate point.  What I do get is a much larger audience and resources of potential material.  Plus, I get to fake being a sportswriter.  It’s awesome!

I’ll be setting up some rss feeds, and cross  links between this site, the new site, Bleacher Report, Facbook, and likely various other places in the next few days.  But until then, you can check out Killer Crossover by clicking here, and Bleacher Report here.  Stay tuned for more.

A Lackluster Second Round For The NBA Playoffs

I have to say that the first round of the NBA Playoffs were much more interesting than the semi-finals have been so far, with the exception of Cleveland-Boston.  The other three series have been routs.  The Lakers had to eek out a win on the road in game three, but there is just no way Utah can stay with L.A. much longer.  They might win game four at home, but then it’s on to a blowout in game five.  If the Lakers really want to win a title, they’ll go hard to close out Utah in a sweep, especially now that Phoenix has done just that to the San Antonio Spurs.  I’ll be interested to see if they show a killer instinct or not.  If they take game four off, and somehow manage to lose in L.A., it’s a sign that this team just isn’t mentally all there.  If they do close out Utah well, then they could well be back to the favorites to win again, especially with Cleveland struggling.

I am simply shocked that Phoenix swept the Spurs.  I never even considered the possibility.  I only vaguely thought the Suns would have a chance to win the series if Robin Lopez came back and played well.  Well, he didn’t and they did anyway, in a far more dominating fashion than I thought possible.  (more…)

Published in: on May 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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NBA Playoffs Underway

I love the NBA Playoff Tournament.  In my opinion, it’s the best post-season of any of the major professional sports.  The NFL playoffs are great, don’t get me wrong, but there, the games are one-and-done.  In the NBA, playoff matchups last up to two weeks, and are frequently roller coasters of momentum.  It’s much more interesting.  Anyway, here’s how I see the first round going.  I also included where I picked the teams to finish before the season started, where I did passably well, getting 13 of the 16 eventual playoff teams right while making my fair share of completely off-base predictions.  Yes, I actually said the Wizards would make the playoffs.  At least it wasn’t the Nets.

Eastern Conference

4. Boston Celtics vs 5. Miami Heat

Before the season, I picked Boston to be the top seed in the East.  Well, age, injury and performance issues made that call just a bit wrong.  And why is Ray Allen still here?  He didn’t exactly fit when they were true contenders.  Miami, on the other hand, I had pegged for a mid-40s win season (they had 47).  Without a 12-1 stretch to end the regular season, Miami likely doesn’t end up this high in the standings.  Dwayne Wade is great, but this team simply isn’t deep or talented enough to get very far.  Can they beat Boston?  Yes, if age and injury keep wearing the Celtics down as it did during the regular season.  Will they?  I also said Miami would lose in the first round, and Boston can still play lockdown defense in the slower, more deliberate post season.  I see no reason to break from that prediction.  Boston in 6.

3. Atlanta Hawks vs 6. Milwaukee Bucks

I picked the Hawks to Finish third in the conference, win 50+ games (They won 53), and said that if Jamal Crawford fits in, they’ll be explosive offensively.  Check, check, check.  Milwaukee, on the other hand, I said would be absolutely lousy and be nowhere near the playoffs.  Well, who knew Andrew Bogut would start looking like a good player?  Who knew Brandon Jennings would emerge from Europe as one of the best young guards in the league? Who knew John Salmons would once again get traded and carry a mediocre team on a big late-season push?  I sure didn’t.  Still without Bogut, these guys have no shot.  Atlanta in 5.

2. Orlando Magic vs 7. Charlotte Bobcats

Before the year, I said Charlotte didn’t have enough to make the playoffs and would need a big trade to get there.  Hello, Stephen Jackson, Tyrus Thomas and Tyson Chandler.  If they would have had this roster before the season started, I never would have picked Washington to make the playoffs.  They also play great defense.  Orlando I picked to slip a bit from last year, saying that Vince Carter was a bad choice (still remains to be seen, in my opinion) and that they wouldn’t approach 60 wins.  Well, they won 59, and a much deeper and more talented team than I had given them credit for.  Still, if VC doesn’t improve on his previous playoff disappearing acts, The Magic won’t be getting back to the finals.  To me, this is best chance for a major first-round upset.  Sure, the Spurs could beat the Mavs, but does anyone really consider that an upset?  No one, and I mean no one thinks Charlotte can win this series.  But they can beat on Dwight Howard, close out on their shooters, and force VC into a jump shooter.  Given a break or three, and this could happen.  Tougher than most expect.  Orlando in 7.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs 8. Chicago Bulls

I picked Cleveland number two in the East, primarily concerned by whether Shaq’s impact would be good or bad.  Turned out OK, I suppose, as they finished with the best record in the regular season for the second year in a row.  But this team is much deeper and more talented than last year’s version.  I thought the Bulls would be better than this, and after trading away Salmons and Tyrus Thomas for basically nothing, I’m as surprised an anyone that they’re even still playing.  Of course, if not for the end-of-season injury to Toronto’s Chris Bosh (the other team I picked to make the playoffs in the East that didn’t) they might not be.  Still, here they are, about to be stomped by the far, far superior Cavs.  No repeat of last season’s battle with Boston.  Cleveland in 4.

Western Conference

4. Denver Nuggets vs 5. Utah Jazz

Is there any more over-performing team in the league than Utah?  They have some talent, to be sure, but there is just no way they belong among the league’s elite teams.  I picked them to finish 6th out West, and to have traded Carlos Boozer by now.  Boozer seems to have been granted new life by the Jazz fans, and there’s actually serious talk about re-signing him in the off-season.  I sincerely hope they don’t make that mistake.  They may yet regret not finding a taker for him and getting something in return.  Denver, on the other hand, is exactly who I’d thought they’d be, good, sometimes great, sometimes frustrating.  Still, it’s going to take a better team than Utah to knock them out, even if the Jazz were 100% healthy.  They’re not.  Denver in 5.

3. Phoenix Suns vs 6. Portland Trailblazers

Phoenix has been much better than I’d thought possible, especially defensively.  And don’t believe that it’s a coincidence that Amare Stoudemire has been playing like the best power forward in the league since the All-Star break, after it was clear he wasn’t going to be traded and would be testing the free agent waters.  The second half was a resume builder of sorts for Stoudemire and he’s going to be well motivated to continue that through the playoffs before a big payday in Miami, New York, Chicago or wherever.  Even healthy, I didn’t think Portland would be among the conference’s elite teams.  They were far from healthy.  Now, they are seriously undermanned playing a hot and explosive Suns team.  They’ll be lucky to win one game.  And how many Portland fans will watch the Lakers-Thunder series with a bad taste in their mouths every time Kevin Durant makes a shot thinking of what might have been?  Is it really too early to start equating the Oden-Durant decision to the Bowie-Jordan one?  I don’t think so.  Phoenix in 5.

2. Dallas Mavericks vs 7. San Antonio Spurs

I picked these two teams to finish second and third in the West behind the Lakers.  In fact, San Antonio was my preseason pick to win the title.  Despite all the injuries and age, and despite Richard Jefferson apparently falling off a cliff, the Spurs won 50 games, and Manu Ginobli looks ready to go.  As any San Antonio fan will tell you, if Ginobli isn’t 100%, the Spurs aren’t going to win.  Dallas was a good team before they traded knucklehead Josh Howard for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  Now, they are one of the deepest and most talented teams in the league, one that I believe has a very real shot of winning it all.  San Antonio is going to be a tough test, however.  Can the Spurs three big guns stay healthy in what could be a long, physical, grinding series?  I don’t think so.  If Manu, Tim and Tony do, they can win this series in 7.  You have to feel for Dallas.  Second best record in the conference and by far the most difficult first round matchup (sorry, Utah fans).   Dallas in 6.

1. Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City has come together much faster than anyone anticipated, and they’ve done it with defense as much as with Kevin Durant’s emergence as a genuine superstar (you don’t win a scoring title without being a superstar in this day and age).  Still, while they may be game in this series, they’re playing the Lakers.  If the tiebreaker had worked out differently, and they were playing someone like Phoenix, I might give them a better shot, but that didn’t happen.  Still, 50 wins for this franchise is nothing to sneeze at.  The Lakers, obviously, I picked to be the best team in the West (I also said they’d lose in Conference Finals).  Injuries have hit them hard of late, especially Kobe and Bynum.  But what concerns me more is the inconsistency.  If they aren’t completely healthy, I don’t think they make it out of the West.  But this is just the first round.  Los Angeles in 6.

Published in: on April 18, 2010 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just Shut Up And Let Them Play Golf Already

Is anyone else sick of Tiger Woods?  Admittedly, he’s the most successful golfer in the world, and likely will be until the day he decides to hang up his clubs.  Notice I didn’t say “the best golfer in the world.”  I’ll get back to that point later.  Anyone tried to watch The Masters, or should I say, The Tiger Woods Memorial Comeback Tournament?  If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have realized that there actually were other golfers playing in this thing.  We’re constantly inundated with cut-aways to Tiger’s most recent shots, replayed over and over and over again, commentators trying to assess every little twitch and curl of his face and what that means for the future of the sport.  Quite frankly, it’s sickening.  Last I checked, some guy named Lee Westwood was actually winning this tournament at the moment.  And in second place, there’s this little known guy named Phil Mickelson.  All he’s done is win three majors himself, including two Masters.  But I can count the number of times I’ve seen a cut-away to one of his shots on one hand.  One hand with no fingers.

Look, I understand that Tiger is this larger-than-life personality.  I understand that the entire planet has been saturated in his recently exposed transgressions.  I understand that it’s always a big deal when Tiger is in contention at a tournament, especially a major, but this is way over the top.  First off, let’s drop all of this comeback nonsense.  Tiger’s last tournament was five months ago.  Five months is a typical off-season in virtually every major sport.  It’s not like he was dramatically injured, or hadn’t played in years.  He’s an athlete in his prime who took some time off due to self-inflicted injuries to his image, the most painful of which have been to his bottom line.  Sure, the press has been all over him during those months, but this isn’t a comeback in any sort of meaningful sense.  Unless, that is, you’re one of the bunches of large corporate entities (Augusta National, ESPN, Nike, etc.) who has millions of dollars tied up in his exploits, on and off the golf course.

Back to Tiger being the best in the world, statistically, he is that.  He wins much more than anyone, and he’s seemingly always in contention.  Any time Tiger misses a cut in a tournament, it’s a major shock, although most golfers have that happen somewhat routinely.  But still, as good as he is, I honestly don’t believe that he’s that much better than the before-mentioned Mickelson or any of a dozen other high-level golfers.  What Tiger does have that most all of his competitors lack is the commitment to be the best, the single-minded drive that keeps him consistently on his game.  Golf is a somewhat lackadaisical sport.  The pace is sometimes agonizingly slow, players gracefully stroll from shot to shot.  Certainly, it takes an immense level of concentration and attention to detail to play championship-level golf.  Most golfers are only able to muster that competitiveness on few select occasions.  Tiger, to his credit, brings it every round.  That’s what makes him the most successful golfer, not a level of skill or talent abundantly in excess of his peers.

But that drive is also what causes his little outbursts and temper-tantrums.  Every time Tiger showed a little of that fire this weekend, someone always chimed in about him needing to change his ways, controlling his emotions.  Well, one comes with the other, folks.  How happy do you think ESPN, Nike or any of the plethora of other sponsors and media outlets that make boatloads of money covering his every hand gesture would be if he does, indeed, control his emotions, and becomes just another really good golfer, maybe winning two or three tournaments a year, possibly a major every three years or so?  Tiger is what he is; a supremely driven competitor who likes to blow off steam with whatever ladies he could find.  Was Michael Jordan any different?  Would the NBA have wanted MJ to “control his emotions” on the court and settle for anything less than being the best player in the league, the one holding up the MVP trophy and the NBA Title year after year?  Of course not.  Control the gambling, maybe, but that’s another story.

Most of the criticisms I’ve heard about Tiger’s behavior have been along the lines of hypocritical moralizing, “He needs to be true to his family.”  You mean the “family” that’s a marketing sham?  The one designed and carefully crafted to sell more Escalades?  How realistic is a marriage in which the wife is forced to sign a contract actually requiring her to be “a dutiful wife”?  Sure sounds like the fairy tale, true love to me.

None of this coverage has anything to do with Tiger, the human being.  It’s all smoke and bluster, both from the press hounding the man’s every sexual exploit and from his own handlers and their one-sided, hand-crafted attrition of a press conference, and the Nike commercial that, rather disgustingly, used his dead father’s words to help repair the image that sells more golf shoes, shirts, hats and clubs.  Certainly, Tiger is largely complicit in a lot of this.  He strikes me as being an arrogant ass, with little in the way of social graces and respect for anyone that doesn’t immediately service his needs, however base they may be.  But so was Michael Jordan, and that didn’t stop me from reveling in his every amazing move on the basketball court, or cheer for his every championship moment.

Tiger is just a man; a deeply flawed man with but one thing that makes him special: a drive to be the best.  Forcing him to temper that drive just because its side affects make it more difficult for the corporate  parasites leeching cash out of his wake are uncomfortable with them is wrong.  Just let the man play golf.  And show somebody else once in a while.  In that too much to ask?

Published in: on April 11, 2010 at 3:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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