Commentary

Pay attention to Tiger's tomorrow, too

We overlooked Chris Henry's redemption story. Let's not make that mistake again.

Originally Published: December 24, 2009
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

So, Christmas … the time of year in which the humble story of a child born in a manger meets a red-nosed reindeer and consumerism.

I'm not an overly religious person, but I do try to remember that the reason for the season isn't holiday parties and spiked eggnog but the redemption of humanity. It's easy to forget that part because our culture isn't really big on redemption. We're much more interested in the fall -- until someone dies.

[+] EnlargeChris Henry
AP Photo/Amy SancettaWe gave Chris Henry much more blame for having problems than credit for fixing them.

The current Newsweek cover has a close-up photo of Tiger Woods and bold headline type stretching across his face: "Why We Can't We Look Away." I don't think our unwillingness to look away is the problem. Our problem is sticking around for the whole story.

I don't believe in giving bonus points to celebrities and athletes for not being stupid; but if we're going to talk about every move they make while they're in the midst of a scandal, then we should follow their stories of redemption in the aftermath, as well. And we don't seem willing to do that. We like to move on to the next scandal as quickly as possible, which is great for magazine sales and late-night television fodder. But when we do that, we carry with us an impression that might no longer be true of the person in the scandal we just left.

Many people, for example, had no idea that the late Chris Henry had turned his life around. After he stopped getting arrested, we stopped noticing. We stopped caring. Now obviously, getting arrested is out-of-the-norm behavior and thus becomes news. But if we had paid as much attention to Henry when he was trying to become a better man as we did when he was being suspended from the NFL, we might not have been so surprised to see so many teary-eyed mourners speak so highly of him after his death and at his memorial service earlier this week. The details surrounding the accident in Charlotte are still murky, but one thing is clear: He died with many of us assuming he was still the person that he was back in 2007 when the NFL suspended him, and I find that sad.

Because we turn away during times of redemption, we sometimes rush to misguided conclusions, as many in the public and the media did in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Sean Taylor. Because of his early legal issues -- which included a DUI and an arrest in connection with a shooting -- it was assumed he'd been up to no good when he was killed in late November 2007. Talk radio and bloggers rushed to judgment, and many football fans were initially unsympathetic because the Taylor from 2005 was the only Taylor they knew. That was the Taylor who got all the attention. Not until the details of the home invasion and murder came out did the 2007 version of Taylor come to light.

Taylor and Henry died before they'd been celebrated for the good about their lives; and we're all to blame for that. No matter how famous a person is or how much money he makes, he is still a human being capable of personal victories as well as defeats, just like anyone else.

Sean Taylor
AP Photo/Nick WassToo few of us knew about this side of the late Sean Taylor.

No matter what Tiger Woods does from now on, chances are he will never receive as much press as he's had over the past month. Every aspect of his personal life has been exposed for ridicule; and while he certainly is no innocent bystander, he will likely always be thought of as a cheater even if he shaves his head and becomes a Buddhist monk. Sure, he'll win at golf again and get new sponsors and maybe even a new wife, but he'll never get back what the 24-hour coverage of his shortcomings took away. And he'll never get 24-hour coverage of his learning curve from this episode in his life.

Again, giving gold stars to people for not committing adultery or for not getting arrested is a little extreme. But when there's an extreme amount of coverage and attention being given to someone when he makes mistakes, I think it's only fair that some attention be given to him for trying to correct those mistakes. We're obsessed with the fall, but the redemption story can be just as sexy. We just have to be willing to give it some attention.

It's easy to point the finger at the media for all of the negativity, but it isn't only journalists who are forwarding the stories and re-tweeting the jokes. It's all of us. Culturally, we just seem to like dirt. The problem is, we focus so much on the stains and the mess, we forget that dirt can also provide the building blocks of life.

Yep, even mud stories have two sides.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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