ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Editorial on Growing Golf

As Vince so charmingly pointed out in yesterday’s comments, I have written a ridiculous number of words for the blog this week… and it looks like today may be pretty long too. So here’s the plan: Tomorrow I’m just going to post a video (some golf humor I think you’ll enjoy), post the Limerick Summary on Monday (if they get the darn thing finished on time!), then get back to the Route 67 series next Tuesday or Wednesday. Today I want to do something I don’t do very often, and that’s write an editorial about something I feel strongly about. (Something that isn’t a swing technique, that is. ;-) Forgive me if it rambles a bit, but these are all related things that jumble together when I think about them.

I’ve been listening to the talk about Brian Davis all week. It’s pretty interesting to me, as it varies from people being excited that we have such a good golf story after so many tumultuous months, to debates over whether we should be making such a big deal of this. For example, Stephanie Wei made a good point with this comment on 4-19-10 (forgive me for not linking to the exact post, but there's no individual link to this):
“No doubt I’m impressed with Davis, but I might be even more impressed with a guy who calls a violation on himself in a heavily-officiated team sport. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant stopping play mid-game to notify the ref he stepped out of bounds? Probably not. But that doesn’t make golf and golfers morally superior to other sports and sportsmen. Just different games with different sets of rules and expectations.”
At the other end of the scale, a TGC poll showed that about 70% of viewers didn’t think Brian deserved any praise – he just did what was expected of him. As Bobby Jones once said (I know, because I heard it several thousand times this week), “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

But I’m afraid we’re missing the big picture here, and that’s what started me thinking about doing an editorial. Three athletes were all in the news this week: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Broncos draft pick Tim Tebow, and of course Brian Davis. I’m not looking at whether the reasons they made news were right or wrong, but WHY these three stories seem to have generated so much emotion.

Roethlisberger got a 6-game suspension that could be reduced to 4 games with “good behavior.” (Six games is half the regular season for you non-NFLers out there, so it could have a huge effect on the way the season plays out.) Tebow was drafted about 75% of the way through the first draft, ahead of some other more-highly rated college quarterbacks, and many of the “talking heads” thought he might go as low as the fourth round, so this was a big surprise to most fans. What do these guys have in common with Davis, you might ask?

I think the answer has to do with integrity – but not the players’ integrity so much as how people in general view integrity.

Some have argued that Roethlisberger’s penalty was a reaction to public outrage, an attempt to punish him because “the law” didn’t – in other words, the suspension is a substitute “sentence.” But I think it’s actually an attempt to convince Roethlisberger that his actions affect others. The argument “But I didn’t hurt anybody but myself” has become an excuse these days for doing really stupid things and not learning from them. Roethlisberger has done some pretty stupid things in the past, and this was the second rape accusation in less than a year. (I have heard that a third had been hushed up, but I haven’t verified that claim.) There’s no way Roethlisberger can miss the point on this one – his actions have CLEARLY affected his team’s chances at the Super Bowl this year. (Again, for you non-NFLers out there, the Steelers have already won the Super Bowl TWICE with Roethlisberger at the helm.) In addition, something like this is a public relations nightmare for the NFL, who’s trying to create a charitable image along the same lines as the PGA’s.

Tebow has become a polarizing force during the NFL Draft because of the emphasis on – you guessed it – his character. While almost everybody really likes the kid, many feel that he’s been “sainted” by the public and the media. As one of the ESPN commentators put it afterward, this is the first time in a long time that a player became a first-round draft primarily on the strength of “intangibles” like character and leadership qualities. (Personally, I don’t think that’s fair – Tebow did win two BCS titles, which indicates some degree of talent – but I understand what they mean. Tebow played in a specialized offensive formation, which some feel won’t transfer well to the NFL.) Tebow was taken ahead of two other college quarterbacks thought by many to be more talented… and both of them were expected to go well ahead of Tebow. (For the record, I was thrilled by that turn of events since the Carolina Panthers managed to get one of those players, Jimmy Clausen, during the second round. That was the Panthers’ first pick in the draft, a pick they never expected to get.)

But Tebow was clearly picked because of his attitude in combination with his skills. When asked why he thought he was drafted, Tebow simply said his college coach wanted him to play a specific style, so he learned it and played it to the best of his ability; and that whatever the Broncos wanted him to do, he would learn and play that to the best of his ability. His work ethic is unquestioned – in other words, he has proven that he is what he says he is – and that’s what the Broncos’ coach was looking for.

So what does all of this have to do with Brian Davis?

Earlier this week I read some poll results that said around 80% of Americans don’t trust the government or the banks. Jones made his statement back when people left their doors unlocked and didn’t worry about it; these days, people not only expect the bank to be robbed, but they expect the bank officials to be the culprits. Integrity is NOT expected by most people these days… but that doesn’t mean they don’t value it anymore.

In a world where the Steelers apparently tried to trade Roethlisberger after the suspension came down and couldn’t get any takers – despite two Super Bowl victories and probably more to come – Tim Tebow became someone that the fans could root for and not feel guilty about it… and so did Brian Davis. And it was bigger than you think.

How do I know? My Yahoo page comes up with a gadget that typically shows 24-36 major news stories from all over the world – sports, science, politics, etc.

Now, the golf world has been buzzing all week over Lorena Ochoa’s retirement. The #1 women’s golfer retires… and it didn’t show up in the gadget. In fact, I haven’t seen anything about it outside the golf community, although a friend told me she heard it mentioned Friday shortly after the press conference.

Tiger announced two more tournament appearances. I think the first announcement showed up briefly in the gadget, but it disappeared just as quickly and it barely caused a ripple in golf news.

Brian’s self-called penalty not only made the gadget, but was there for two solid days! I heard him do at least one phone interview on ESPN2, and it was a topic for several of their talk shows. Bear in mind that this is the first round of NBA playoffs, a major topic on ESPN, and the week leading up to the NFL Draft – which ESPN is carrying! Brian still got discussion time, even in the midst of all this. And of course, it’s been a daily topic on TGC.

It’s 100% true that Brian just did what was expected of him when he called that penalty on himself… but such expectations don’t extend outside the golfing community. Brian Davis drew more attention this week outside the golf world than either of the #1 players on the men’s and women’s tours… and the golf world doesn’t even seem to have noticed that it did.

How can we expect to grow the game when we don’t even understand what it is about our game that interests the world?

I’m certainly not saying we should anoint golfers as the new messiahs of the sports world. Golfers, as Stephanie pointed out in her post, aren’t morally superior to other athletes. (The Tiger fiasco alone should have put that lie to rest.) But the strength of golf’s appeal does lie in its players and the expectations of the sport itself, and other than First Tee, we haven’t really tried to capitalize on either of them. That has to change.

Some of those changes should be matters of organization, and some of presentation.

I think the lesson from First Tee is clear: People will respond to a sport that teaches them to be better people, gives them a skill that can aid them in business, and also gives them some exercise. My goal for my blog is to try and simplify the game so it’s easier to pick up, an issue that I get a little worked up over at times. ;-) But we need to find an easier way to teach the game. Most people can pick up a baseball, basketball, or football and have fun pretty quickly… unlike golf, which is perceived as far too difficult to learn unless you make a huge commitment to it. We need a simpler teaching method, and maybe make 9 holes the standard weekend round so the game can be played more quickly. I think it might even be advantageous to create a standard half-set of clubs – maybe a driver or 3-wood, a 5- or 7-wood, a hybrid, 2 short irons, a sand wedge, and a putter – that is cheaper to buy and lighter to carry, and build local competitions and leagues around these. Fourteen clubs and eighteen holes would still be the official tournament standards; think of these as comparable to 2- or 3-man basketball games vs. college and pro games.

TV needs to become more fan-friendly and show more of the rank-and-file players during broadcasts. These players have fans too, and if they can’t see them, they won’t watch. As digital TV and online “stations” make multiple-stream broadcasts more practical, this is something that should be pursued. I personally like the idea of 18 “channels,” with each one focused on a single hole. Fans could follow their favorite player through their entire round just by flipping to the next channel, stake out a single hole, or “surf” the course as it suited them… much as they can do at an actual tournament. Short video pieces on individual players could be made available on demand from a website or extra channel, so people could learn about individual players at their leisure. Golf is a game that can really benefit from technology, and we need to use it better.

Finally, I think us golfbloggers can do something about this… but it will require some changes from us. See, no matter what the subject, the media in general likes sensationalism. They pick one aspect of a story or a personality and focus on that. It’s catchy, it gets a lot of attention, and it draws viewers. In the end, it’s all about the money… but things get distorted in the process.

We golfbloggers are guilty of it as well. As a couple of prominent examples, Phil is either the patron saint of faithful husbands or FIGJAM, and Tiger is either the savior of the PGA Tour or the evil god of promiscuity. Instead of complex imperfect people, we create cartoon characters that we think will get pageviews.

If we want to change things, we need to stop that.

Look, I’m not saying we have to pretend we like all these guys, or agree with everything they say and do – just that we ought to treat them fairly for our audience. You don’t have to like what Tiger did to Elin and his family, but he didn’t suddenly become the Destroyer of Worlds and his charitable work didn’t suddenly become a sham because of some reprehensible behavior. You can remind yourself that banging 15 consenting women isn’t quite as bad as killing 15 nonconsenting women. Don’t get too upset when he lets a couple of curses slip after he said he wouldn’t do it anymore because, unlike those of us who have rarely had control of anything, Tiger still thinks he can control everything by sheer strength of will. The nature of self-delusion means that he doesn’t know any better yet; at least there is evidence that he’s trying to change. Maybe in some cases that just means he’s starting to do what we normally expect from the other players; nevertheless, it’s a change for him, so give him some credit. You have the ear of more people than you know, so you should take the responsibility seriously.

By the same token, if you think Phil is a windbag and does a lot of things just for show, it’s perfectly ok to say so. As a blogger, you are in a unique position to express your opinions on things, and it’s your right to say what you think. But unless you like people calling you insulting names in public – especially people who only know who you are because they’ve seen your picture on your blog – you ought to stop calling him FIGJAM. Don’t treat rumors about him the same as if they were facts. That’s just common human courtesy, and your blog makes you a public figure, whether you like it or not. You have a responsibility to avoid abusing your platform.

And even if you hate both men’s guts, it wouldn’t hurt to applaud them when they do something good. Maybe they did it for the wrong reasons, but helping people is still helping people. Let’s try to encourage more people to do good when we can.

Does that all sound a little overly-moralistic? Maybe it is. But if we’re willing to say anything to get pageviews without considering how it reflects on our integrity, then maybe Brian’s choice was a bigger deal than we’d like to admit.

The world is reading. What will they read about on your blog?

BTW, I have discovered that Tiger and I have at least one thing in common: Apparently we both like some of Nickelback's music. Shocking perhaps, but true. I didn't know until reading some of the other blogs that this was such a terrible malady; I suppose now I'll have to go to therapy as well. I just think it's a shame that I didn't get the highly-paid endorsements necessary to pay for said therapy. Therefore, all donations will be gladly accepted. ;-)

No comments:

Post a Comment