Sensationalism comes unrelentingly in America. With so many outlets and an overload of bizarre behavior on the part of our public figures, sensationalistic chatter is impossible to avoid. With the exposure of Tiger Woods’ – how shall I say – lifestyle (?) coming immediately after Andre Agassi rocked the sports world with his uber-autobiography Open, we were presented with an odd juxtaposition.
With Agassi you have an athlete that, with everything to lose, came clean and admitted to impeachable activity (recreational drug abuse, blatant abuse of pro tennis’ regulatory system). Through obvious sincerity, compassion, his volunteering the information and the benefit of time having white-washed his abuses, Agassi largely came through the admission unscathed. People generally understood Andre and more importantly, his motivations behind the problems.
Those problems came at a point in his career where Agassi was only cheating himself. Due to a rudderless depression and fragile mental state there were a few low-level matches tanked and a major championship semi-final appearance gifted to his opponent, but neither of those acts even begin to approach Tiger’s stratospheric orbit. Agassi’s world ranking sank like a stone during the break he took from reality, and, as he so eloquently put it during his 60 Minutes interview, the drug he was taking was a performance inhibitor not enhancer. Nothing about his actions at the time translated to benefit.
The personal spiral that led Andre to the cliff’s edge is compelling: overbearing father, the weight of his family’s fortunes and well-being resting on his shoulders, a vacant – if not completely non-existent – adolescence, etc. etc. Is anyone surprised that this mix fostered insecurity and self-doubt? That he fulfilled his father’s vision of earning the #1 world ranking (and everything that came with it) while all the while “hating” the vehicle that brought him those accolades is amazing. We should all be happy he didn’t end up at the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium with a rifle. I genuinely believe Andre and give him credit for accepting responsibility, recognizing he had a problem, pulling himself up and turning a tremendously large minus into an even bigger plus, especially with regard to his passion for education.
Despite the few stragglers in the media who wanted to continue fanning the flames of sensationalism, people started to see the components of Agassi’s story as acceptable human flaws. Flaws not so different from those found in the non-celebrity world; tough parents, a job you hate, being unhappy with one’s general lot in life, insecurity, etc. It was nice to finally see something positive come out of the detritus. Great messages. A complex yet strangely simple story. A completely human dimension. And people were beginning to get it. Then a strange thing happened…a lighting bolt shaped suspiciously like Tiger Woods fell from the sky, obliterated The Fable of Andre Agassi and reminded everyone that for athletes, nay celebrities in general, being “human” is a very, very ambiguous concept.
Tiger’s impotent pleas for privacy in the early days of his crisis fell on deaf ears because his alleged transgressions were so very not human for someone considered Mr. Clean. Not to mention, in the most inhuman way possible, he addressed them via written statement instead of addressing any of them in person. To say this was a miscalculation from perhaps the most calculated athlete of all time is an understatement. The fiasco has since been rolled out on the media’s terms, and Tiger’s continued silence has only served to reinforce the previously-held opinions of many that he’s arrogant, above reproach and all together sort of slimy.
Being able to spend thousands per night on, apparently, multiple high-priced escorts, financing cosmetic surgery for other “girlfriends” and God knows what else while concurrently maintaining his status as the greatest to ever play his sport is utterly unbelieveable. Tarantino-esque, in fact. No matter how much Tiger explains and attempts to repair his life, we now know that it’s gonna be insincere at best. Sadly, its likely no one will even care about the explanation.
Amazingly, these “meat and potato” elements are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the following diametrically opposed coincidences:
Both at the top, one carelessly throws it away on hookers, drugs and irresponsibility while the other sinks even deeper into what’s clearly a lifelong depression, resorting to narcotics as a band aid, letting his professionalism wane and then waking up one day resolving to being a better person and making every day count.
With Woods you have arrogance and entitlement. With Agassi you have compassion and perseverance.
Earl Woods told Tiger he was #1 from the get go. Mike Agassi told Andre that he had to be a world #1, no arguments.
Earl took Tiger to places like The Mike Douglas Show to emphasize his greatness. Mike bet hundreds (initially thousands) that Andre – at age 9 – could clean the court with the likes of Jim Brown to emphasize his greatness.
Tiger won the first major championship he played as a professional (1997 Masters). Andre went though some heavy flak before breaking through, losing 3 finals and three other semi-finals in his first 14 major championship appearances, winning in his 15th attempt on his worst surface, the grass of Wimbledon in 1992.
Tiger’s image has been that of model citizen from day one, only to be drastically reversed by personal demons. Agassi’s image was that of rebel from day one, only to be drastically reversed by personal demons.
One receives a career jolt via self-infliction, the other receives a career jolt via self-imposition.
One is indefinitely stuck. One is now free.
Yin. Yang. (Even this is freakishly coincidental given the Eastern philosophy angle; Tiger being a Buddhist and Andre being coined a “Zen Master” by Babs.)
Odd juxtaposition indeed. Naturally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
The Smoking Cupcake, January 2010