Tuesday Pop Review- The PGA Championship and the Lack of True Sports Heroes Out There

Hello all, and welcome back to your Tuesday Pop Review!  This past weekend was the PGA Championship, golf’s fourth major of the season, which was won by relative unknown and tour rookie Keegan Bradley in a 3-hole playoff against tour journeyman Jason Dufner.  The tournament was most notable for the lack of “star” power anywhere near the top of the leaderboard. 

Normally, my sports pop reviews would discuss the event itself and break down the television coverage, since I am someone who’s spent more than a lifetime’s worth of watching sports on television. 

This week, my post tracks the real story of the tournament, the continuing fade of the golf star that is Tiger Woods, who shot 9 over par in his two rounds and missed the cut by 5 strokes.  Sure, Tiger was playing just his 2nd tournament since May and he should not have been expected to contend.  Still, it’s hard to overlook that Tiger hasn’t won a tournament since 2009, and not since before his infamous “car accident” on Thanksgiving evening in 2009, the incident that led to the revelation of his mass philandering, his temporary leave from golf, his divorce and now, finally, his apparent descension to mediocrity.  The karma police in all of us is no doubt nodding approvingly. 

It leads me to the real topic here — the modern day media phenomenon and the likelihood of there being a large number of sports “heroes” from this point forward.  We all know the sports hero when we see one — a first-class athlete with a first-class personality off the field.  Nowadays, real stories like Tiger Woods’ personal mess or the baseball steroid era become epic sagas on the back cover AND front cover of newspapers, and even non-stories like bad quotes in magazine interviews make headlines.  There is no longer anywhere to hide for athletes.  The result is that almost every superstar athlete over the past 10 years carries a tarnished reputation.  Consider the following list of once admired superstars:

Tiger Woods- Reputation destroyed by public adultery scandal

Kobe Bryant- Once accused rapist and admitted philanderer

Barry Bonds/Roger Clemens- Baseball legends found guilty of steroid use by the court of public opinion.

Alex Rodriguez- Admitted steroid user, philanderer

LeBron James- Despised for exercising his right to switch teams via free agency, announcing it through a televised broadcast where the proceeds were donated to charity, and making bold predictions at a pep rally for Miami Heat fans that were broadcast to the world.

Ben Roethlisberger- Multi-time accused of sexual harassment

Michael Vick- Convicted animal abuser

Plaxico Burress- Convicted gun-toter

Even once squeaky clean Derek Jeter has had haters question his character during this offseason’s contract dispute, his decision not to attend this year’s all-star game, his alleged mediocrity during this stage of his career, etc.

This list could go on and on and on.  If you look at this list, some of these guys have clearly made their own bed (i.e., Vick, Woods, etc.), while some of these assassinations of character seem less self-inflicted (LeBron, Jeter, etc.), to the point where it’s clear that 10-20 years ago, before we had 50 national beat writers for every sport racing to break the latest scandal on the internet or Twitter, these “stories” would not have been stories at all. 

This makes me wonder two things — 1) how many of our past heroes would have been exposed for something we never heard about if they played today (i.e., maybe Cal Ripken cheated in his day, or maybe he would’ve received non-stop criticism for continuing his streak when he was barely an effective player anymore); and 2) whether any current star athletes will survive their entire career without significant controversy.  Here is a short list of untarnished superstars as far as I can tell:

1) Tom Brady-  Resented more than anything for his success on and off the field, but no major scandals that I can recall. 

2) Peyton Manning- Constantly in the public eye for his many commercials but has not faced any significant character questions.

3) Drew Brees- Seemingly liked universally

4) Kevin Durant- Still in his early 20’s but always says the right thing, signed extension with small market Oklahoma City rather than jumping for brighter lights.

5) Phil Mickelson- Maligned at times for his conditioning and his failure to win the big one for much of his career, Phil’s still probably the most popular golfer on tour and a devoted family man. 

6) Grant Hill/Steve Nash- Ultimate nice guys finishing out their careers together now in Phoenix.

How long will it be before the media vultures its way into tarnishing these guys?  How clean must these guys be for it not to have happened already?  I hope we still have sports heroes 25 years from now, because we are trending downward. 

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