August is often a slow time for sports news in the U.S.
The National Football League is just beginning training camp. Major League Baseball has its trade deadline, but there are still a couple of months until the playoffs. A new season for the National Basketball Association won’t begin until October.
Everything was relatively boring and predictable, until the morning of August 2 when an “off the field” report about a high-profile professional athlete was published.
It was reported that Tiger Woods turned down over $700 million to play in the LIV, a new golf tour that is backed by Saudi oil money.
America has a love-hate relationship with its celebrities. We quickly build up our stars and place them on pedestals. When they stumble, we knock them off the pedestals we built for them.
Tiger Woods grew to fame quickly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and what was not to like?
A young man who was charismatic and good looking, with skills on the golf course that were without equal. It seemed that the sky was the limit, until it all came crashing down around him.
Tiger was involved in an early morning, alcohol-infused auto accident that quickly revealed larger problems.
His marriage was in shambles, much like the luxury car he crashed. There were even rumors that his wife had used one of his own golf clubs to exact a measure of revenge.
Magazines plastered pictures of mistresses and reported stories of affairs, and Tiger was suddenly persona non grata with the public that had so admired and adored him before.
Many of his young fans trusted his contrition and continued to love their star. Others adopted a “wait and see” approach.
Over the last few years, Tiger has rebuilt his image – the right way.
He owned up to his shortcomings, sought professional help for his struggles and worked to rebuild relationships both on and off the course.
In addition to becoming more amicable with his fellow golfers, Woods is often seen in public with his children with whom he has an undeniable chemistry. He and his son have played in a father-son golf event and stole the hearts of those who watched.
During the height of his success on the golf course, he was seen as aloof and unapproachable. In these last few years, that has changed. He is mentoring younger golfers and embracing his role as an ambassador of the sport.
If there is anything Americans enjoy more than knocking celebrities off their pedestals, it is embracing them again once they have found redemption. Tiger is back on a pedestal, of sorts, and he did that by doing the right things – over and over again.
He climbed to another level in my eyes when I read that he turned down between $700 and $800 million dollars to play for the Saudi backed LIV Golf Tour.
The Saudis are using oil money to rebuild their tarnished image following the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as recent reports tying several Saudi men, including one diplomat, to the 9/11 attackers.
Now, they are seeking to use golf and several high-profile players to rebuild their poor image in the eyes of the world.
Sadly, many U.S. golfers have accepted the Saudi oil money. Fans have struggled as greats like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson accepted “blood money” and showed no contrition or regret doing so.
This is why Tiger’s refusal to accept the LIV offer was so important. Even if you have a net worth as high as Tiger’s, it is hard to turn down that much money. But that is what he did.
If I were a reporter, I would ask him, “How much did your kids weigh on you in this decision?” I would like to think that he was teaching his kids that money only matters when it is received the right way for doing the right things.
I am a Tiger fan. I love the new Tiger even more than the old Tiger. I will always appreciate his skill, but I truly respect his integrity and the way he proved that by refusing this money.
The Saudi-backed LIV Tour might be successful, but the effort to rebuild their image through golf tournaments will ultimately fail because you can’t buy a new image.
Their standing in the global community and the perception of Saudi Arabia around the world will only improve by taking responsibility for heinous acts, apologizing for murder and changing the ways they treat women and the free press.
Recently, the LIV Tour held an event in Bedminster, New Jersey, which is less than an hour’s drive from the site of the 9/11 attacks. Family members of those lost at the World Trade Center said the event was like rubbing salt in open wounds.
It is ironic that a tour trying to rebuild Saudi Arabia’s image in the world is so tone deaf that they would hold an event near the place that is sacred ground for many Americans.
I wish they gave out Oscars for the best sports stories. “And the Oscar for greatest redemption story goes to …Tiger Woods.”