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Let me begin by saying I consider Tiger Woods the greatest golfer I’ve ever seen and likely ever will see play. Technically, when he was “on” for a good ten-year run, his golf skills were truly phenomenal. He's yet to demonstrate he can catch Jack Nicklaus's professional golfers' best record, but Tiger's skills are without question the best ever witnessed.

Second, let me say that I don’t generally root against Tiger. I do often root for others, so it depends upon how you look at it. The point is, I get no personal jollies when Tiger falters.

Third, I think his fall from grace was, in a word, remarkable. In a matter of a few hours, certainly a few days, he toppled—no, he plummeted—from the pinnacle of worldwide sports and endorsement capacity to a place somewhere very low in the public’s estimation. It still strikes me as rather amazing, especially given the fact that his transgressions involved sexual escapades that are: a) quite common among celebrities, b) behaviors in which many in the general population indulge. Still, he hit some kind of bottom, real fast, and his game if not his life has yet to recover. Clearly, he needs to get back on course—pun intended and in more ways than one.

So, I don’t claim any self-righteous right to condemn Tiger or use him as an example of all things unholy. I now just think he and his saga are sad.

But the man is only 35 years old. He’s still physically capable of being the world’s greatest golfer, and as long as he breathes he still has a chance to turn things around in his life spiritually, socially, and more.

So here’s my recommendation on “How Tiger Woods Can Reboot His Life.” I sincerely wish and pray him well.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

It’s become fashionable for sports pundits to call for the public to forgive Tiger Woods. Or to say it’s time to “quit piling on” Tiger Woods. Or to “give Woods a break.”

Sports writers and announcers do this in part because they may be genuinely compassionate. Maybe some want to rehabilitate Woods in the public’s eye because they really don’t think what he did was all that bad anyway and, besides, it’s a free country. Some just want Woods back up to par, pun intended, because they regard him as the greatest talent ever to swing a golf club (who doesn’t?) and don’t much care what else he’s done if they get to see him perform at the highest level of his capability. Some want him back at the top because professional golf makes more money with Woods in contention.

It’s true, Woods didn’t kill anyone a la O.J. Simpson and didn’t rape anyone a la Mike Tyson. As far as we can tell, he didn’t do anything illegal. Immoral? Yes. Arrogant maybe? Probably. Chauvinistic? Definitely. Dumb and dumber? Absolutely. But his errors were ones carrying ripple effects for him and his family, not really for the rest of us. So why is so much of the public yet unwilling to let the man back inside the ropes, so to speak?

I don’t think it has anything to do with an unwillingness to forgive. Nor do I think the public is holding back on Woods because people like piling on or rooting for him to fail. Actually, the American public has historically been quick to restore fallen heroes: think Magic Johnson—even Mike Tyson has experienced something of a re-acceptance. But Woods: I believe fans are watching Woods like they’ve watched Pete Rose, with much the same suspicions.

Pete Rose bet on his own baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. As a result he was forever banished from admission to the major league baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Some fans want him restored to consideration. Some don’t. The biggest argument against restoring him is Rose himself. First he denied he bet on the games he managed. Then he admitted to betting only on other games. Then finally when it became clear to him things weren’t going to change, he wrote a book admitting he bet on his own games and feebly apologizing. Along with this, since the day he was publicly disgraced he’s been a one-man campaign about how he deserves to be admitted, all the while presenting a less than believable and certainly less than remorseful persona.

That’s Woods, and that’s Woods’s biggest problem—his own persona. And by the way, I don’t think the public’s response to Woods has anything whatsoever to do with racism as some sports writers claim.

Woods is arrogant, standoffish, and surly on his best days. Sure, he can smile when he wants to and he can make a joke with reporters. But this is rare. Last week at The Master’s, he banged his golf clubs on the ground in open disgust, he cursed continually within range of cameras or microphones, and on one occasion the camera zoomed to his face just after a poor shot, catching him quite clearly mouthing a vulgarity. Worse, after a finish on Sunday not to his liking he was abrupt and quickly skipped out on the media.

Phil Mickelson is not an angel, but on a golf course or otherwise in public he does none of this. None. In fact, he goes out of his way to interact with fans, treats sports writers with respect, honestly assesses his game (Woods by his account is always “playing well”), and in general is a likable person who knows whereof his bread is buttered. Fans like him not just because he seems to have the picture perfect family, but because he openly cares for his family, likes people, and shows himself to be friendly.

Woods is the non-Mickelson. Where Mickelson plays with a swashbuckling style that probably looses a few tournaments, Woods is always the technician, greatly skilled but robotic. Where Mickelson is a happy person in the face of life’s challenges, Woods is barely controlled and barely concealed anger—it’s like it’s just under the surface. Mickelson wants to win for the joy of it, for his family, for the fans. Woods wants to win to claim he’s the best.

In the language of the King James Version, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly.” I don’t know what Woods is like in private, but he is not a friendly person, actually a largely unpleasant persona in public. Fans know this and hold back. Who wants to be friends with someone who doesn’t want you as a friend?

If Woods wants a better future, he’d do well to spend more time working on his attitude and his interpersonal relationships skills than his golf game.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Much is being made of the Seattle Seahawks winning their National Football League division with a losing record, 7-9. The Seahawks will be the first team in NFL history to walk into the playoffs a “loser.” This offends purists. To make matters worse, the Seahawks went 3-7 in their last 10 games, not an especially auspicious way to get into post-season play.

But statistics aside, the Seahawks won their final game, won fair and square, and, well, won the division. The team earned its playoff berth by being the best in a weak division. So I say “Congratulations.” Not every team can be the New England Patriots in the same way not every quarterback is a Tom Brady.

There’re several lessons here: you don’t have to be perfect to be the best in your corner of the professional world; you should never, ever, give up; don’t listen to naysayers; keep working, getting better than yourself on each new professional effort; even less talented people sometimes win with desire, work ethic, and grit, things more talented people don’t always evidence—watch the Olympics for more lessons.

Contrast the Seattle Seahawks debate, though, with the annual intercollegiate NCAA Division I football bowl series fandango. Given the proliferation of bowl games in recent years—we now suffer through 35 bowls, all wishing they were the Rose Bowl and all longing to be scheduled on New Year’s Day.

Here we’re not talking about one team in a professional league. We’re talking about a self-defeating bowl explosion that dumbs down post-season intercollegiate play.

For 35 bowls you need 70 teams. Check the win-loss records of this year’s bowl participants and you’ll find 23 of 70 teams sport records with 7 wins or less, almost one-third, including once-vaunted Michigan. In 4 bowl games, both opponents featured 7-win or less records. In the 7-or-less club are 3 teams with .500 records. Still more mindboggling—and now we’re finally to the Seahawk comparison—6 bowl teams have losing records: Clemson, East Carolina, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Texas El Paso, all (6-7). Yet they made it to the show.

If people are going to become agitated by the Seattle Seahawks’ 7-9 losing record, perhaps to be consistent, at a minimum, we need to eliminate teams with losing records from collegiate bowl games. I’d even go one step further and suggest the NCAA would be better off if it increased bowl-eligibility standards from 6 to 8 wins in a season. This raises the bar and helps assure top achievement is rewarded.

But this won’t happen. Reason being is that the number of bowls is not about quality football but about money. Raising the bowl-eligibility standard would probably force bowls out of existence, thus universities with football programs would have fewer places to go to pay for the exorbitant funds they’re pouring into programs, trying at almost any cost to produce a winner. This includes most prominently the off-the-charts multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts head coaches are now commanding with even rather average records. It makes you want to ask whatever happened to academics—and I’m a football fan.

So do we get bugged at the Seattle Seahawks who played by the rules and won one for the Gipper? I don’t think so. At least they’re professionals and a losing record team can only get into the playoffs when other teams competitively don’t make the grade. It’s not really a system that rewards mediocrity.

On the other hand, I think the NCAA and BCS system is rewarding mediocrity each year. I’d radically readjust intercollegiate NCAA Division I football, which ultimately might produce better athletic contests and, who knows, maybe graduate more top-tier student-athletes who actually stay in school long enough to earn their degrees.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, but replays and game announcers quickly confirmed what I thought I saw—a New York Jets coach tripping a Miami Dolphins player. Assistant Coach Sal Alosi stuck out his knee as Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll ran to cover a punt, tripping him. Bad enough behavior as it is, but Alosi’s incredible lapse of sportsmanship played out live and in color on Sunday night national television.

What words come to mind when you hear this? Dumb. Poor sportsmanship. Conduct unbecoming. Are you kidding me? Did he think he could get away with this? Did he think?

Today, we heard the NFL verdict: Alosi will be suspended from the team without pay for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, and be fined $25,000. Pretty steep penalty, but not steep enough.

Alosi has “taken responsibility,” apologized, said he won’t do it again, and promised to write 500 times “I will not be mind-numbingly stupid. I will not be mind-numbingly stupid.”

OK, but still not enough. As leaders and as compensated professionals coaches bear a greater responsibility. They’re supposed to be the grown-ups. They’re supposed to set the standard, be a model, inspire others. Sal Alosi may have done a credible job as a team fitness coach. He may be, apart from tripping, a nice guy who mows his Grandma’s lawn every week. But for all that, he’s a man who squandered a stewardship. In a time when more professional athletes are engaging in bad, ill-advised, and even violent behavior, you'd hope that coaches, at least, would still be capable of demonstrating character.

Organizations have long since lost the will to fire people. Organizations are afraid of lawsuits, afraid of being singled out on national television as a bad corporation, or worst of all, afraid of being considered “insensitive.” But there was a day when being fired served as a statement of accountability.

No one likes to lose a job. In fact, there’s no pleasant nor easy way to tell someone he or she has lost a job, and there’s certainly no pleasant or easy way to receive such information.

But losing a job, even being fired, is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. It's not capital punishment. In fact, if a person is indeed guilty of some workplace infraction, as Alosi assuredly is, than being fired can be a turning point in life. It gets ones attention and it can be turned to the good.

I don’t mean to romanticize getting fired. It’s not fun and games, and shouldn't be done arbitrarily. But organizations must attend to their missions and that does not generally include giving a second chance to employees guilty of egregious behavior.

Alosi was a professional, some would say privileged professional. Yet he acted in a highly unprofessional manner. This is grounds for firing. In the end, Alosi need not be banned forever from football, but neither should he be permitted to reengage with this team. Who among the players would respect him? Time for Alosi to move on for the good of the team and, truth be told, for him too.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson and cornerback Cortland Finnegan were fined $25,000 each today for fighting in Sunday’s NFL game between the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans. Both players were ejected from the game but neither faces further suspensions.

In a modest apology, Johnson said, “What happened out there today was not me…” Huh? Who was it then? Last year, Johnson was fined $7,500 for fighting with Finnegan, pulling him to the ground by his facemask. Two similar infractions, particularly involving the same opponent, suggest Johnson is less than truthful with us and maybe himself. If he doesn’t have an anger management problem than he certainly has a problem with this one player. It “was not me” doesn’t hold water.

Of the two, Johnson got in the most blows including fists to Finnegan’s head. Johnson, the bigger man, even threw Finnegan to the ground and as Finnegan was on all fours attempting to get up, Johnson stood over him pounding fists to Finnegan’s head area.

But Finnegan is no angel. Both Finnegan and Johnson tore the other’s helmet off. This was no push-and-shove testosterone contest. Both were clearly trying to hurt the other. And this is Finnegan’s fourth fine this year for fighting and taunting other players bringing his total to $45,000. Finnegan had been taunting Johnson throughout the game and taunted Houston fans as he left the game nearly causing a fan riot in the process.

Fines have not caused either player to own or change his behavior. Both players are repeat offenders. Both are guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct undermining the integrity of their sport. Fines will never result in changed behavior. Players simply treat fines as a cost of doing business, for some a budgeted expense.

Near the beginning of my years as a university president, several student-athletes committed some serious rules violations. The athletic director, coach, and a couple of other university administrators deliberated the matter with me and we eventually suspended the players for four games.

Some critics accused the university of being over the top, way too severe in its punishment. Other critics thought this discipline was too light, that we were “coddling athletes.” I don’t think either criticism was valid.

Those who thought the university was unfair failed to take into account that we did not kick the students out of school and they were permitted to continue their studies, thus losing no time, course credit, or money.

Those who thought the university was giving special favor to athletes failed to account for the fact that the worst discipline an athlete can experience is loss of playing time. In other words, these student-athletes would rather have done anything, including lose academic time and money, if they’d just been allowed to continue on the team.

This is why I say the NFL, or any other professional sport, will not be successful in changing players’ behavior on the field or the court simply by fining them. Many of these athletes are millionaires, or at least earn a lot of money. Losing cash might hurt a little but not much.

Another thing: a fine is individual. You fine the guilty player, he pays the fine, and he continues to play, so his team feels nothing. If you suspend a player, i.e. take away his ability to play, you get his attention and you get the attention of the entire team. Now, this player’s unsportsmanlike conduct has put at risk the entire team’s ability to win games and championships. You’ve created a collective interest and incentive in playing according to the rules. This results in positive peer pressure.

So you can fine athletes all you want, even large fines, and you’ll only be minimally successful, if at all, in altering their actions. For athletes, playing matters most. Suspend players from a game(s) and I guarantee you their unsportsmanlike behavior will be reigned in when they come off the bench.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should ditch the fines and set up a system of game suspensions appropriate to the infraction.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

There’s something about sports heroes. They’re different from other heroes. We get to know them.

Unlike other heroes—the woman who rescued a child from an oncoming car or the fellow who served his country in harms way—sports heroes do their deeds in front of us. We get to see it happen, time and again, in HD, TiVo, or live at the event. We get to be heroes vicariously, one of the great joys of sport.

So when sports heroes go awry it brings us up short. It’s no fun, unless you’re a bit perverse, to see sports heroes brought down to earth.

That’s the case with the New Orleans Saints Reggie Bush who yesterday gave his Heisman Trophy back. Bush returned the award to spare the Heisman Trophy Trust from having to ask for it. Both giving it back and asking for it back are unprecedented in the award’s 75-year history.

The NCAA recently ruled Bush was ineligible during his award winning 2005 season on the basis of evidence his family received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts, free housing, and more from California agents. In other words, Bush was paid like a professional before he turned professional, a clear violation of NCAA policy.

Sports heroes are falling from grace, in part, because cultural commitment to character has declined in the past few decades. More youngsters are growing up without moral teaching, good role models, or moral restraint. You can see this in elementary and middle schools. If you don’t believe this ask school teachers, EMTs, fire-fighters, nurses, or police personnel who’ve been on the job for more than 25 years. They see it.

Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Marion Jones, Art Schlicter, Darryl Strawberry, Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, Barry Bonds, Pete Rose—athletes whose character failures harmed their careers and their lives. There are many more.

I think incidents like this are going to increase. Reason being, kids are still growing up in homes without both parents, without instruction in right and wrong, and little chance of getting either anywhere else. Neither schools, nor churches it seems, can handle it.

One of the great beauties of sport is the purity of competition. It’s the idea that we can watch athletes go head to head at the pinnacle of physical talent and skill with all the heart they can muster. And “May the best man/woman/team win.” And when they win it’s because they deserve to win, not because they cheated but because on that day they are truly the best.

The integrity of sport. Lose it and lose the meaning of sport.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.