As a sports fan in 2010, you must ask yourself the following questions:
What do you know, and why do you need to know it?
In the past week, three of the bigger names in sports have been involved in major stories ... or, at least, what are supposed to be major stories.
Tiger Woods played in the Masters after five months as the media's piñata. Ben Roethlisberger found out he will not be charged with sexual assault in Georgia -- after many waves of media coverage over the accusation. And Jerry Jones had a drunken, candid moment with a couple of fans recorded on somebody's cell phone camera. The video was then posted on Deadspin.
How much of this did we need to know? And if you're going to be a sports fan in any conventional sense -- because you want the escape and enjoy the games -- does it help, in any way, to check the Internet for the latest embarrassing cell phone camera shots of a famous athlete?
Or would you rather just watch the games?
Woods has been hit with a fresh torrent of criticism for his inartistic performance at the Masters: his on-course temper, his post-round reaction to announcer Peter Kostis' questions, and his apparent inability to prove he is a changed man, as he promised only days earlier.
This all began, of course, with the absolutely stunning news that a famous athlete had cheated on his wife. Masters chairman Billy Payne was so outraged that Tiger had let down his sponsors, his family, Payne's grandchildren and at least the next 14 generations of Americans that Payne felt the need to open his Masters press conference by chastising Tiger for his behavior. Afterward, Payne retreated to his all-male club, where no member has ever committed adultery, or ever will, because they know that would inflict unspeakable emotional pain upon all of Payne's descendants.
The Woods scandal is amazing and unprecedented on several levels. Start with this: by now, virtually every mainstream media outlet has devoted a significant chunk of its available airtime, cyberspace and/or ink (yes, some still use ink) to the story of Tiger Woods cheating on his wife. Most of the mainsteam media doesn't want to do this story.
Why? Because these athletes are private citizens and responsible media members tend not to care if private citizens commit adultery. It is not our business, and we generally don't think it's your business. But now, because of the interest in Tiger, the weakened media sector of the economy, and the loose standards and easily measured readership metrics on Web sites, we are acknowledging these stories in ways we never did.
But this brings us to the most amazing part: nothing Tiger Woods has done ---from his stint as a wannabe porn star to his creepy Nike commercial during the Masters to his interview with Kostis -- has anything to do with him playing golf. (The on-course tantrums, I will acknowledge, are at least somewhat related.) Woods is one of the top two golfers ever, and he is now a bigger phenomenon for his transgressions outside of golf than he ever was as an athlete.
Much has been made of Tiger's response to Kostis; an obviously agitated Woods said people are "making too much of this" and that his on-course demeanor had nothing to do with his off-course problems. He seemed baffled and annoyed that people would connect the two. It was at that moment that I became convinced, once again, that Woods will break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships. For better or worse, he seems to have retained his ability to consider his golf game the most important thing in the world when he is on the course.
The Tiger story developed, and over-developed, to the point where people stopped questioning whether it is even a legitimate story. This is the world we live in, and there is no going back. But do you care? Should you care?
The web numbers and TV ratings and insatiable appetite for more "news" on Tiger all indicate that people do care. And yet: I don't think they care. I really don't. They don't care in the sense of being outraged or disappointed or worried about the effect on their kids. They're rubbernecking. It's all part of the entertainment.
Tiger Woods is starring in a reality show against his will.
Tiger has been accused of being a womanizer with lousy taste (in language, but also in women). The initial accusations against Roethlisberger are much more serious. Roethlisberger avoided being charged with sexual assault in a Georgia bar, but Wilkinson County District Attorney Fred Bright painted a picture of a man who may have followed a very drunk 20-year-old into a men's bathroom and ... well, whatever happened there can apparently be reasonably doubted.
Now NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and/or Steelers President Art Rooney II may suspend Roethlisberger. The question is: for what? Buying drinks for underaged people? Being accused of a crime that he may or may not have committed, but was never even charged with?
I'm not saying a suspension is right or wrong; frankly, there is a mountain of evidence that Roethlisberger is a self-absorbed egomaniac with a heavy jerk streak, and I won't lose a minute of sleep if he is suspended. If I were a Steelers fan, I'd feel weird rooting for the guy.
I'm just saying: if players can be suspended for being egomaniacs and jerks, this is opening a very large can full of very nasty worms.
Our last story is our funniest: Jerry Jones, apparently a dozen or so drinks into his evening, saying things he should not have said to random fans. I don't know Jones, but I think I would really like the guy. Anybody who enjoys a few drinks and loves talking to sportswriters is cool with me.
What we learned from Jones' video is:
1. He does not think Tim Tebow is an NFL quarterback.
2. He was surprised that Tony Romo, an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois, turned out to be a good NFL starting quarterback.
3. He hired Bill Parcells partly with an eye toward currying favor with his fan base, which was voting on funding for a new stadium.
4. He is eager to place blame on Parcells for the Cowboys failing to win a Super Bowl under his watch, rather than accept the blame himself.
I am, admittedly, extrapolating on No. 4 -- Jones simply said that Parcells is "not worth a s---." The drunken foolishness was dumb and irresponsible on Jones's part ... but you know what? None of those four things is a surprise. A lot of people in football question Tebow's NFL prospects. Undrafted free agents who succeed are always a surprise.
And since we all know that Jones loves being popular, wanted a stadium desperately, and is far more likely to blame the people who work for him than himself, the Parcells comments are not that surprising. Heck, if you remember, Jones' rift with Jimmy Johnson started when he blabbed that he might get Barry Switzer to coach his team. Jones and Johnson were elbowing each other out of the way because they each wanted credit.
Of the three stories -- Woods, Roethlisberger, Jones -- Jones' is undoubtedly the most trivial. But at least it is about sports, which is the reason we are supposed to care about these guys in the first place.
It used to be that you could watch sporting events and you could watch soap operas, but most people chose one or the other. Now you have to take a pair of tweezers and pull the sporting event out of the soap opera. That's just my opinion; you might think it's not worth a s---.