Commentary

Tiger Woods as villain? It'd work!

Why not borrow from the grand theater of the WWE, and make Tiger the bad guy?

Originally Published: April 14, 2010
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

The next time Tiger Woods plays on the PGA Tour, he should show up in black clothes and dark sunglasses. Steve Williams, his caddie, should carry a golf bag that has a scarlet "X" stitched on it.

Tiger should curse on the golf course enough to make Redd Foxx blush. He should put a Perkins restaurant sticker on his bag. He should throw his clubs like a javelin when he misses an easy putt. He should text-message in between shots. If a reporter asks him about his emotional state, Tiger should channel Bobby Knight and make a bunch of ridiculously juvenile faces.

Tiger should become a bad guy. He should be golf's version of the WWE's Triple H.

I'm not suggesting Tiger return to the philandering ways that got him into so much trouble in the first place. And I'm not suggesting that Tiger start tripping old ladies, cheat on his taxes or steal pennies from the change tray at 7-Eleven.

[+] EnlargeTriple H
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri/ WWETriple H has carved out a nice little career for himself as a heel. Why not Tiger, too?

What I am suggesting is that he has an opportunity to take advantage of being the villain, now that the media has crowned Phil Mickelson as America's Family Man. That might not have been particularly responsible -- we apparently still haven't learned how dangerous it is to assume anything about what an athlete might be like in private -- but playing off Tiger's role as America's Sleazeball, it was great theater at the Masters.

The 36 percent spike in TV ratings for the final round of the Masters wasn't only about Tiger's return. It was partly driven by the tension between two golfers with supposedly different moral compasses vying for supremacy of their sport.

That storyline probably won't go away anytime soon, especially if Mickelson continues to be Tiger's primary challenger as the best player in the world. Tiger, cast as the immoral one, adds an edge to their rivalry; and, while Mickelson might never admit it, he should enjoy knowing that he'll receive another halo with every major victory.

For Tiger, the villain's role is an opportunity to liberate himself from his own narcissism. Tiger has spent the bulk of his career transforming himself into the perfect pitchman; surely there is some part of him that has wanted to rebel against the idea that he always has to behave flawlessly. And with this sex scandal hovering over him for the foreseeable future, the pressure is reallyon him to live a blemish-free life and prove he's a "changed man."

Forget that.

Tiger should revel in being polarizing. He should stop promising to be the Buddhist of the month. Stop pledging to put dollars in a cookie jar every time he curses on the course.

It's far more compelling, and even mysterious, to play the scoundrel. It would make him seem more genuine and human. It would make him more respected, and that's better than being liked.

Say what you will about Barry Bonds, one of baseball's villains. But while some admitted performance-enhancing drug users such as Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez insult the public's intelligence by feeding us weak rationalizations and excuses, Bonds at least has chosen not to snivel, and it's earned him a little of my respect. He's got his story; and not only is he sticking to it, he remains downright defiant about it.

When Bonds played for the Giants and lived under a cloud of steroids suspicions, he seemed to love being booed. The more the crowd disliked him, the better he seemed to hit. When a fan at San Diego's Petco Park threw a syringe at him, Bonds picked it up, tossed it aside and jogged into the dugout as if he'd collected a gum wrapper. Later, Bonds told reporters: "I don't judge them. I have to concentrate on baseball. I leave that up to you guys to make those statements in the paper."

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesA little more cussin' and a few more thrown clubs, and he's there.

Bonds knew a lot of people didn't want to see him break the home run records, and it drove him. He seemed energized by the fact people suspected him of wrongdoing but couldn't do anything about it -- including the federal government, which has been struggling to catch Bonds for years.

Too many athletes are so consumed with their shoe deals, commercials, movies and clothing lines that they try too hard to be liked. We live in an age where athletes' lives are more exposed, and it's made them more guarded and calculating. As a result, we have far fewer raw personalities in sports.

In "Winning Time," ESPN's spectacular "30 for 30" documentary on Reggie Miller, it was invigorating to hear how much Miller thrived on being the player all of New York City hated. He wanted to bury the Knicks, and it made their games with the Pacers the must-see rivalry in the NBA for a few years. It also made Miller a legend in New York.

That's the approach Tiger should take. He should welcome all hecklers. When that airplane flew over Augusta last week with a banner that read, "TIGER: DID YOU MEAN BOOTYISM?" he should have rented his own plane that flew a banner that said, "NO, I MEANT BILLIONAIRE-ISM."

Tiger should take a cue from John Daly, who has made a career out of being dysfunctional. Daly doesn't care if you think he's rotten, and that's why he's beloved.

Besides, elite athletes often look for motivation to propel them to greater heights. If I were Tiger, I'd use the fact the media has shaped me into Deuce Bigalow as incentive to kick everyone's tail.

Tiger has to realize the same golfers who once feared him were probably snickering about him in the clubhouse during his self-imposed exile. They don't fear him now as much as they did before last Thanksgiving. Tiger will probably never be as universally popular as he once was. He tried to gain back the public's favor with an apology, a news conference and even an ill-advised Nike commercial featuring the voice of his late father, Earl. And it hasn't worked.

So why bother? Tiger's hero days are done. Time for him to show perception can be reality.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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