Tiger Woods news rockin' the Strip
LAS VEGAS -- For Jimmie Johnson, being called "vanilla" is looking pretty good these days. Boring isn't so bad after all.
Tiger Woods would take it right now if he could. His world has turned upside down in one week with the scandal involving his personal life.
"You get accused of being too plain and too vanilla, but this doesn't encourage you not to be," Johnson said Thursday. "I don't have anything to hide, so it's not like I have anything to worry about.
"But people make mistakes. That's the lesson for us all. From a public image perspective, you're always trying to protect against that mistake."
Woods' ongoing quagmire is a big topic of conversation across the country, including at Champion's Week on the Strip.
No doubt a few guys are taking a more conservative approach to a party week in Las Vegas than they might have taken before this happened.
Woods is the center of media attention everywhere for all the wrong reasons. Other athletes have noticed, of course, including NASCAR's star drivers.
Before the annual Myers Brothers Awards presentation Thursday, I talked to five NASCAR drivers with an image as squeaky clean as it gets -- Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon.
Even for them, Woods' hell week has caused them to re-examine just what it means to be a sports celebrity.
"It is scary," Vickers said. "That's part of the public life. There are pluses and minuses to anything you do. Any choices you make in life, there always are consequences."
Woods' predicament reminded Vickers of a quote he has tried to live by for years.
"I heard Warren Buffett say it," Vickers said. "Any time you are about to make a decision, if you're not comfortable with it being on the front page of the Sunday paper in your hometown, you probably shouldn't do it.
"That's so true. It's not to say you want everything you do on the front page, but if it were to end up there -- and in today's world, there's a good chance it will -- you better be comfortable with it."
Gordon said he learned that concept long ago.
"We're all human," Gordon said. "All of us are living our lives doing the best we can. Just because somebody is making millions of dollars doesn't make them immune to what happens in the rest of the world.
"But there are a different set of rules that you have to live by. The privileges that make your bank account go up and get you the best restaurants in town also have a downside. You have to think about your actions in public, where you go and when you go."
Gordon was NASCAR's Mr. Perfect for years before going through a difficult divorce. For the first time in his career, he found himself in the tabloids with stories about his situation.
"It was an eye-opener for me about that type of media," Gordon said. "You have sports media and news media, but there's also the whole gossip-type media that I'd never been a part of.
"There were a lot of things that surprised me through that, but I never once felt that it wasn't fair. It might not be something I agreed with or was happy about, but I understood why people were talking about it." There's a lot of "Thank goodness that isn't me" going around right now for sports celebrities. But for these NASCAR drivers, it was more feelings of sympathy and concern for Woods and his family.
"He's finding out now just how famous he really is," Gordon said. "While he would like it to be a private matter, when you're a public figure, especially the magnitude of Tiger Woods, it's not very realistic, and I think he understands that. You're an open book."
Newman said he is amazed at how Woods has become the top news story on almost everything he sees.
What happened to Tiger shows you have to be careful. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is try to do things right and not cause that type of controversy. If you do make a mistake, you have to figure out how to make up for it and get past it.” -- Kasey Kahne
"He screwed up, but I feel for the poor guy," Newman said. "It's not even fair anymore what's going on with him. What happened to him happens to a lot of people. But his situation is extremely magnified because of who he is.
"I was thinking to myself that he needs some kind of catastrophe to happen so the focus will go off him to something else. He needs a train wreck to happen."
Newman was trying his best to make light of a tough situation. Kahne just wants to learn from it.
"I always thought Tiger was perfect," Kahne said. ''I'm a huge fan of Tiger Woods. You never heard anything bad about him."
Like Johnson, Kahne is seen by some as a good guy without much personality. It's not entirely true. It's about being cautious.
"What happened to Tiger shows you have to be careful," Kahne said. "At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is try to do things right and not cause that type of controversy. If you do make a mistake, you have to figure out how to make up for it and get past it."
That won't be easy for Woods. Vickers said life is about making future decisions better than the previous ones you might regret.
"There are things that I wouldn't do again," Vickers said. "I'm not going to say I haven't made mistakes, but I don't know anything I would have changed. I learned from every decision I made, and I grew from it."
A lot of learning is going on this week. One week ago, every athlete wanted to be Tiger Woods. Now, no one does.
"It's really unfortunate," Johnson said. "But instant information technology and the access people have with the Internet is all part of it now. It's tough.
"It doesn't excuse Tiger's situation, but you would hope you could resolve all that stuff in the privacy of your own home. That's not today's world, and we all know that." Johnson is being honored this week as the first man to win four consecutive Sprint Cup championships. He's also a guy many people see as a little bland.
It's a brand Johnson doesn't deserve. But considering what Woods is going through, being branded as the bland and vanilla champion never looked better.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.
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