It’s hard to reconcile my existence as a journalism lifer with my overall mistrust of the industry. Hate the sin and love the sinner? Perhaps.

My grievances are many, but I especially dislike our “kick ’em when they’re down” tendency. Don Henley made a fair point or two.

There was little restraint in the media’s frenzy to anoint Tiger Woods the greatest whose hands ever cradled a 9-iron. In fairness to my brethren, there was no way to put Woods in proper context, because we lacked a historical measuring stick.

Nobody had done what Tiger did. Jack Nicklaus set the bar, but at least there was a perception that the Golden Bear had peers. Watching the guy in the red Nike polo saunter away from the putting green on a Sunday afternoon reminded me of Larry Bird’s alleged rhetoric at one of those all-star weekend 3-point contests: “Which one of you bleepity-bleepers is going to finish second?”

Woods built his own brand while making 14 wins in golf’s majors look like Andre the Giant wrestling against little people, but the media played an undeniable, relentless role in shaping the mystique. My profession as a whole couldn’t wait to capitalize on Tiger Mania. We gleefully served up the mythology.

And so it is that I am extremely uncomfortable with the tenor of coverage regarding Woods’ second brush with rock-bottom in less than a decade. Woods was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after he and his vehicle were discovered in relative states of disrepair.

You’ve seen it because it has been inescapable: Woods’ unkempt hair and half-asleep eyes from his police mugshot, the centerpiece of a million increasingly unfunny social media memes. The footage of his field sobriety test is out there, too. Thus far I have resisted countless invitations to watch it.

No, this isn’t the first time Woods has been body slammed from the pedestal others created for him. Six solid months of tabloid coverage were inflicted upon the masses when the details of his extramarital dalliances came to light in 2009 and 2010.

It’s a funny thing about American society. We’re arguably more amoral than ever, yet less forgiving, especially when it comes to misdeeds that are just a teeny bit worse than our own.

For every idle word, every failure caught red-handed, we demand immediate satisfaction. In many cases we hope the perpetrator never works again. For others, we demand a certain level of contrition for some inexact period before we allow them back into our lives. And for still others, they appear to be given more lives than Morris the Cat.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide why the most incomparable golfer of his generation appears to fall into one of the former categories. Race? Riches? Our own insecurity and jealousy? Probably some combination of the above. I mean, surely no sports writers or 24-hour news anchors have ever been stricken with lust in their hearts or made the miscalculation of getting behind the wheel after one too many pops, am I right?

Yeah. Right.

One helpful detail we’ve learned from the glut of Woods’ legal coverage in the past few days is that he hadn’t imbibed a drop. He was overcome by an ill-advised combination of medications.

The guy sacrificed his heart, mind, soul and body for entertainment purposes. His quest to be the best in the business aged his body immeasurably before its time. Now he’s desperate to numb the pain.

It has become clear in the nine years since Woods unraveled from impending G.O.A.T. to cautionary tale that he is both blessed and cursed with an addictive personality. The same traits that helped him reach Sports’ Mount Rushmore are the ones that lure him into self-destructive behaviors.

There but for the grace of God go any of us. It is not something to celebrate or co-opt as a punch line.

Many of us have bemoaned the untimely death of so many essential rock stars in the last few years. I believe we unfairly give them more leeway than athletes. Woods’ fall from grace follows many of the same frightening patterns. All these men of a certain age gave so much of themselves for our entertainment.

From a worldly perspective, they seemed to have it all. But in reality, life at the top for any length of time is one of the isolated imaginable. It’s common practice for people of such lofty and lonely estate to self-medicate with the people and products at their disposal. Now or later, that tendency exacts its toll.

Tiger Woods has made some poor decisions in life. I get that we want to use his free fall as an object lesson. I understand the media’s obligation to report the news. I embrace the public’s desire to be informed.

Let’s just all try to remember that we’re dealing with a human being here. A sick, struggling human being who put a smile on our face by performing at a superhuman level for so long.

We owe him the courtesy of trying to pick him up.

Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. His email is [email protected]


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