Whose game is it, anyway?

By Frank Deford ,

Charlie Sheen, the star of the popular sitcom "Two And a Half Men," was involved in a domestic violence episode in December and is now in rehab.

Perhaps you've also heard about a famous athlete who has suffered chastisement and public ridicule of the same magnitude over these past few months.

What I find interesting, though, is that Sheen has issued no apology whatsoever, nor has there been any hue and cry that he conduct a public press conference, answer all the media's sundry questions and jolly well explain himself to the indignant entertainment media . . . or else.

Now, granted, Tiger Woods is a whole lot bigger in his profession than Mr. Sheen is in his, but these two current examples are quite representative of how differently athletes and other celebrities are valued.

When an entertainment figure -- be it Sheen, David Letterman, Lil' Kim, whomever -- gets in trouble, of the scandalous or criminal variety, there's plenty of publicity, of course, but the star's offense never seems to reflect on his whole profession. There's no weeping and wailing that these scoundrels have let show business down.

Not so with naughty athletes. Their sins invariably are taken to reflect on sports -- especially their sport.

And athletes are also supposed to be better neighbors. Nowhere have I even read that Sheen has been criticized for damaging the professional life and livelihood of the many people who work on his TV show. But, for example, when Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards was suspended for stupidly exhibiting an arsenal of firearms in the locker room, much of the condemnation directed at him related to the fact that he had selfishly hurt his team. How dare he!

Being in an individual sport, Woods cannot be accused of letting just his team down. Rather, the accusations are larger, that he has blemished the whole dear sport of golf. Now that he has put on the hair shirt and is off attending to his personal plight, the overriding question has become: how can this ungrateful bastard make it up to golf? Well, leaving aside the rather significant fact that, by virtue of his genius and popularity, Woods has given to golf far more than he could ever harm it with his personal irresponsibility, what does he -- what does any athlete -- owe his sport anymore than any other employee owes his profession?

The answer, by all accounts, seems to be a lot more.

I suspect it traces back to the same emotional root that beatifies amateurism. We love sports and we're envious of those who play them so well, so we expect these lucky devils to participate for the sheer joy of being blessed. Then, when an athlete like Woods fails as a human being, we respond more with anger than disappointment -- how dare he tarnish something we do so adore.

It's almost as if we expect politicians and entertainers to be venal and flawed, but despite all historical evidence to the contrary we keep expecting better from athletes. We keep saying that Tiger Woods has let golf down because we don't want to admit that he has let us down.

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