We all know the wheels are falling off the Tiger Woods bandwagon at a record pace. The man has gone from the top of the sporting world to a punchline for a string of bad jokes. His marriage is in ruins, his image is shattered, and his marketability has vanished overnight.
As the revelations and rumors of numerous affairs mount with each passing day, another bombshell rumor—one that is far from being substantiated—has dropped: the story of Tiger's doctor being linked to performance enhancing substances.
What the hell happened to Tiger Woods?
How did a once fan-friendly face become yet another poster child for all that is wrong with modern athletes?
Perhaps, and I write this knowing full well that much of what follows is conjecture, perhaps Tiger's problem began when he became buddy-buddy with the likes of Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.
In his heyday, Jordan was the NBA, the same as Tiger became the PGA. But Jordan was never a saint. As his reputation and fame grew, so did his ego. He quickly spun out of both the Chicago Bulls' and the NBA's control.
Jordan was womanizing behind his wife's back. Jordan had a serious gambling issue (one that I believe led directly to his first "retirement" that may have instead been a NBA mandated suspension in order to seek help for an addiction). Jordan was, in reality, a first class jack-ass.
But the NBA couldn't touch Jordan. They couldn't afford to. He meant too much money to too many corporations (Chevy, McDonalds, and Nike to name a few). He was the league's meal ticket and came at a time that the NBA deperately needed the attention he brought with each championship won.
The sports media as well refused to turn on MJ. Reporters needed access to him to get their puff pieces written. Jordan was known to kick reporters out of the locker room if they dared question him or show him in any sort of negative light. Jordan played them, and in return, everyone got what they wanted.
Sound anything like Tiger Woods?
So one day, Jordan and Tiger meet up thanks to Jordan's love of golfing. They become friends. Stories are exchanged. And once his divorce was finalized, a single Jordan begins to entertain Tiger.
Then Charles Barkley enters the scene. Barkley, too, befriends Tiger. Barkley himself has some gambling issues (of course, that isn't a "problem" for Barkley because, as he once said, he "can afford to lose $10 million gambling") and other related baggage (DUI, anyone?).
The pair introduce Tiger to the high life. The downfall has begun.
Soon rumors of Tiger's gambling begin. Nothing confirmed, but nothing necessarily illegal either. This wouldn't surprise anyone as Tiger is as competitive as any athlete out there, and its that competitiveness that drives many a gambler to his ruin.
Then the women come into the picture. Jordan, always the player, knows what fame and fortune can bring. Tiger, as we've all discovered, plays along.
What Tiger learns from Jordan and Barkley is how the fame game is really played. Jordan, being too big for the NBA to punish, becomes Tiger's role model. He may think, "if Jordan could do all this and not face any trouble from the NBA or the adoring media, what's gonna stop Tiger Woods?"
What Tiger fails to understand is that the media of 2009 is a far cry from the media of 20 years earlier. Jordan wasn't faced with the 24/7 coverage Tiger Woods now faces. And the PGA doesn't have the pull the combined forces of the NBA and NBC once did.
Tiger quickly learns that what may have been true for Jordan and Barkley, that they were "too big to fail," doesn't necessarily apply to him. But it's now too late. The cat's out of the bag, and Tiger's wrecked because of it.
I don't believe Tiger's not responsible for his own problems, but could Jordan and Barkley been the worst role models for Tiger to have? Could befriending them been the beginning of the his end?
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