Thursday, June 20, 2013

204. Fans and the power to forgive

Tiger Woods is the best golfer on the planet again, and Nike is marketing Woods around the slogan that “winning takes care of everything.”

Among the “everything” that winning takes care of is, seemingly, the forgiveness of his fans. Woods was not only the best golfer before his admitted “transgressions,” he was also the most popular. Television ratings when he was in contention to win a golf tournament were significantly better than when he was not.

With Woods winning again, his fans seem to have returned. In an informal Today News poll of about 4000 votes, 65 percent said that fans should give him a second chance.

A second chance?

The concept is interesting, particularly since Woods had never really seemed appreciative of his fans to begin with—it was always about him. When he spoke of his transgressions, he said he felt “entitled.”  And, he has not really asked for a second chance.

Brad Kane of, wrote, “In Tiger's exact case, he hasn't really asked for the public to forgive him for all the sordid headlines generated by his good old-fashioned sex scandal. He's not really the warm and fuzzy, easily emotional type. But the public has given him a pass, anyway.”

The question is who am I to give Woods a second chance? He didn’t cheat on me, he didn’t ruin my marriage or destroy my family. That fact often seems to get lost in fans’ inflated view of themselves and the value we place on our favorite player or favorite team on winning.

This column isn’t really about Woods, it is about all the athletes and entertainers, the fans that become emotionally involved with them, and the ability of fans to give them a second chance.

This is about people like football player Michael Vick, cyclist Lance Armstrong and singer Chris Brown.  As the television show Glee asked in regards to Brown, “Can we separate the art and the artist?”

Each has their circumstance, but for me it is simple—I am supporting the quarterback who didn’t murder dogs, the cyclist who didn’t cheat to win, and the singer who didn’t beat his girlfriend.

I am not a big golf fan to begin with, and Woods’ success or lack of it is a matter of indifference to me, but if I were to support, or root, for a golfer, it would be one who didn’t feel “entitled” to cheat on his wife—or even a whining multi-millionaire like Phil Mickelson. There are a lot of golfers, assumingly, who are really good guys, who just don’t win enough—and that’s all that many fans seem to care about.

Fans need to realize that it is okay to root for guys who finish in second place.

It is a weird relationship and interesting that fans feel like they are a part of the athletes and entertainers—with their self-fabricated intimate connection and the power to grant forgiveness.  Perhaps we need to consider boundaries.

Many athletes and entertainers have been worshipped since a young age—when their talent first surfaced.  And while most athletes, and probably all entertainers, desire to be liked—what they want most is to be relevant. We forget that the fans pay their salaries—they owe the fans, not vise-versa.  They love the atmosphere and the excitement (and the financial rewards) of their profession—and few really care if their fans are you or me—or from Cleveland, Toronto or Miami.

Sadly, winning does seem to take care of everything, just ask LeBron James. After “The Decision” he was one of the most despised athletes in sports—until he won a championship. Now even Cleveland would welcome him back.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

203. 40,000 hotdogs at an Indians Game

Twitter continues to be relevant, maybe more than Facebook, as we are mired in an environment of trending topics and hashtags. It is used in different ways, and as I have written on a prior occasion, I use it to follow a variety of interests—mostly newspapers, cable news sources, sport teams and social organizations. I like the timely quick bits of information, which I can follow up as I wish. When our house caught on fire in 2011, I took to Twitter and a local newspaper feed to get information on what had happened.

But Twitter information is selective, I follow that which interest me—such liberal news sources, lots of animal rescue and welfare groups, and vegetarian/vegan advocates.

One danger in my selectiveness, or anyone’s selectiveness, is perspective. Whether it is Twitter or the friends we choose, or the news channels we watch, we tend to gravitate to those who believe as we do. For advocates, it provides motivations and celebration; for the ideological, it reassures one’s philosophies.

Thus, as a follower of animal welfare and vegetarian organizations, I read about, on a daily basis, everything going on in that community. I am appalled at the military use of animals in their training exercises, university animal testing and the news that a greyhound was electrocuted. At the same time, I celebrate when a school goes vegetarian, a research lab is shut down, or news about the latest health benefit of following a plant-based diet. Every day, I have an emotional response to this information—often several of them (Chipotle is testing tofu!). It becomes a relationship.

While this information is extremely important to me, it’s easy to lose social perspective. Being active in a social movement, and engaging with others who share the same values, it’s easy to overestimate its relevance among others. And this is often noted when I read an article from a “neutral” news source, in which the comments, often harshly, criticize those who believe in animal welfare and vegetarianism. It’s easy to forget that vegetarians are only three percent of the population. Because I notice each vegetarian and am exposed to the issues on a daily basis, it seems like a lot more to me. In reality most people don’t care.

It’s the same with news organizations and talk radio, in which it selects issues to raise passions and reassure perspectives. Turn on a liberal radio show recently and you will be outraged at the five year-old boy that killed his sister and the gun company that markets to toddlers. Turn on a conservative radio show and you will hear how liberals want to take away your guns. In the same way, viewers and listeners overestimate perspective—it reassures how reasonable their beliefs are and how outrageous and extreme other perspectives are. It has, in part, created the polarization of this country.

I thought of this distortion the other day at the Indians game. My wife and I attended on “Dollar Dog Day.” As I preface, I begrudge the fact that this promotion did not exist when I ate meat—thankfully, I suppose, because I might have averaged a hot dog per inning. But more than I imagined, the promotion was very popular, as the concession lines were very long. My wife and I sat in amusement as hot dogs were consumed in considerable quantity. However, we were reassured when a young girl in front of us turned down a hot dog from a friend, “I am vegetarian,” she said.

We had a personal moment of celebration, and my wife said, “See, it’s catching on.” And while I think she is correct, because I do think there is a positive movement toward a plant-based diet—our perspective might be biased.

The unfortunate truth was that, according to the scoreboard count, they had sold over 36,000 hot dogs by about the seventh inning. Figuring that number easily topped 40,000 by game’s end, and calculating that there were about 20,000 fans, it averaged out to about two hot dogs per fan (and at least a few had more than two, since me, my wife and girl in front of us did not have any). We saw a couple of teens go through a near half dozen all by themselves.

The point, I suppose, is that despite our exposure to vegetarianism, and the importance it plays in our lives, and because we have a lot of vegetarian friends, it is still a movement that only represents three percent of the population. It’s popularity is exaggerated, in our minds, by our exposure, reassurance and advocacy with vegetarian organizations, news and events.

By selecting who we follow on Twitter, newspapers we read and news organizations we watch, we find our comfort zone with our beliefs and acceptance. Most people only care about what they care about—and there are enough issues, interest and causes to go around.  But it is easy to exaggerate our perspective and the importance of the things that matter to us based on the company we keep and the information we select.

40,000 hot dogs is a lot of hot dogs.