Won't someone please think of the children?

I came across the criticism of Tiger Woods by Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne via Ordinary Gents. At their place, Matthew Schmitz calls it a good thing:
The notion that country-club chairmen and New York Times writers have a social duty to defend monogamy seems old-fashioned. But the decline of marriage and monogamy, and the related rise of inequality, suggests that we need to use private associations and public institutions as mild means of encouraging virtue. This is especially true, I think, if you oppose more stringent forms of morality legislation. Here’s hoping that we get used to exercising our index fingers once again.

I suppose in comparison to morality legislation, a little moral outrage on the part of our nation's golf club chairmen is a tolerable irritation. But it certainly is irritating. From Payne's remarks:
"Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children," said Payne.

"It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here, it is the fact he disappointed all of us and more importantly our kids and our grand kids."

First of all, that second paragraph simply makes no sense. How did he disappoint anyone, if not in the degree of his misconduct? Further, I don't understand how the disappointment could be worse than the behavior that provoked it. It's a nonsense statement.

But worse than the perplexing syntax and topsy-turvy moral hierarchy is the tired squawking about our poor, disillusioned children. I am bothered by this for two reasons:

1) I have never understood why athletes are held up as heroes because they are particularly good at sports. While I am terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrible at sports myself, this has nothing to do with any cultural resentment of the primacy of athletics in this country. (Well, OK. Maybe a little.) Rather, I don't get why one's ability to dunk, pitch or tackle somehow translates into moral authority. Say what you will about Charles Barkley, I still agree with his "I am not a role model" argument, though I'm not sure he needed to go to such lengths to prove it. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for children to learn several important lessons, including that even people we admire can let us down, and that just because a person is good at one thing doesn't mean they're perfect.

2) I think it's preposterous when disappointed adults project their feelings onto "the children." I don't believe it was America's children that have been buying all those copies of Star Magazine and InTouch. Not one single parent has brought their child to see me because of Tiger Woods sex scandal-induced depression. Our nation's youth, "our kids and grand kids" will be just fine. It's okay for the grown-ups to admit that they, personally, are the ones who are so titillated bummed out by all of this. Enough already with our collective swooning about our poor, fragile little ones.


  1. Disagree with you here. Whether or not sports heroes should be held up as role models, they are. Children, in particularly, are rather bad at understanding that people are good in some ways and not others. They also, rather famously, don't take their parents' word as the last word on acceptable behavior.

    And maybe it's not worthy of bringing someone to a doctor. But it does degrade everyone's sense of acceptable behavior.

    Now, lets talk also about the fact that Augusta still doesn't allow woman, and waht effect that has on children.

  2. I was concede this point to a certain degree. I understand that children have feelings that are outside of the control of their parents, and will be disillusioned to learn that their hero is fallible in this way. I still believe it is incumbent on parents of children who looked up to Woods to help them deal with whatever emotional fall-out results.

    However, I think pinning all of this on Woods is ridiculous. He made some remarkably poor, stupid and distressing decisions, and those few texts of his I have read (thanks to Bill Maher's reappropriating them for use on the Republican Party) reveal something a bit unsettling in his personal character. However, the only public behavior in which he participated is golf. His personal failures are between his wife, his family and him. The media firestorm that resulted was outside of his control, and he's not responsible for the tabloids that flew off the shelves or the hours upon days upon weeks of rapt attention it generated. We are the ones who chose to look so hard and so long, and so we are the ones who must now explain all whole firestorm to our kids.

    Finally, I still do not know why sports heroes are so revered. We do not hold people who are famous for other reasons to the same standard, and nobody expects this degree of moral rectitude from Hollywood. Sports heroes have failed as moral examples for generations (Ty Cobb, Wilt Chamberlain, Jose Canseco, Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson all spring to mind), yet still we evince surprise when yet another one fails us.

  3. I still disagree. People do get upset about Hollywood morals. If there is a difference, it is perhaps that children do not fixate as strongly or as completely on actors as they do sports heroes. I do not think it is the adults who are surprised, it is the children. They did not live through all the other revelations.

    And Tiger Woods might be surprising because a lot of people thought he was different. The fact that he isn't leads to the unsettling idea that not only do many sports heroes fail morally, but perhaps all of them do.

    And Tiger Woods did more than play golf. He used his image as a focused, driven, admirable person who was dedicated to sport and his special relationship with his father to sell lots and lots of goods. He earned far more money off his persona than he did off his actual golf skills. ANd to the degree that he does that, I think he does invite the criticism.

  4. Moreover, the degree to which we shrug and tell children (and each other) this is just to be expected, the more it will be expected. And that's deadening, morally speaking.

  5. Children look up to sports figures because they grok sports. The pre-teen set doesn't yet fully understand politics, science, or art, but they can relate to hitting a baseball or kicking a soccer ball.

    Augusta is a private club, and I've yet to meet a single child that knows or cares about the membership policies. I think we should be far more concerned about the overrepresentation of women in education and the pernicious effect the lack of role models has on boys, and the obvious discrimination against males in college, where women claim far more admission slots than would be expected based on their numbers in society. Higher education is clearly discriminating against males, and males should be given preferential admission until the student body looks like America.

  6. I'm not arguing that we shouldn't tell children that what Woods did was very wrong. I just don't agree that the primary basis for our opprobrium should be how his behavior affects "the children." Also, I'm not saying parents should shrug their disappointment of their children off, but rather take this opportunity to explain that even people we admire make mistakes, and that there may be more to famous people than what we see.

    And GJ, you might choose an example to make your point that's a bit less obviously ridiculous. You and I and everyone else in the world know that women are overrepresented in education because more women choose to enter that field, not because men are excluded. Really, man, why say something so patently silly?

  7. A) Augusta is a private club, and excluding is (and should be) legal. However, I don't think it's moral or psychologically healthy.

    B) If you're making an analogy between Augusta and higher education, there seems a striking difference: there is an actual policy at Augusta. I'm not inferring anything based on membership numbers.

    If you are attacking what you assume is my position on affirmative action in higher education, you are wrong to so assume: http://bleakonomy.blogspot.com/2009/07/personal-thoughts-on-affirming.html

  8. Neither my 5 year old or 7 year old have ever even heard of Tiger Woods, much less have reason to be disappointed in him. In fact, much to my chagrin and amusement my 5 year old thinks George Washington is President. Pre-teens don't care about Golf. And even the older pre-teens that watch sports don't read People. Most pre-teens, in fact, due to cable programming, are staying further and further away from such gossip. (OK, I am talking about boys here because I have no girls but I doubt girls pay much attention to the sex life of Tiger Woods either). Even on the internet boys are far more into Massive online Role Playing games, many of which are free.

    So, I have to say I am with Dan on this. I don't care at all about Tiger and his nonsense and have purposely stayed away from such things except here, but the point is ancillary to it, which is how much reason should adults have to be disappointed in the actions of total strangers to us? To me, the answer is pretty much not at all. I exclude politicians from this since their actions affect my life, but other than them, I could not care less.


  9. Charo - my two-year-old thinks President Obama and President Lincoln are the same person, and occasionally asks if either one of them are coming over to play.

  10. But to your broader point, Charo: first of all, it is older kids I'm talking about (9-12). And in my area growing up, kids that age were golf fans. I'm sure they would have been very excited about Woods. Second of all, I think it's corrosive not just to children. It's not him singly. It's the cumulative effect of dozens of sports figures treating women as pleasure outlets to which they might have constant access. That the reward of success or talent is being treating women like an elaborate back-scratcher.