S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 16 May 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 

Good Spots

 

[]

American's borderline

pathological dedication to

individualism means we'll never

get enough hero worship, and

thanks to SportsCenter, we

huddled masses are never in a

jam. Despite endless whining

about which size bills

professional athletes wipe their

asses with, even semi-sane

populations worship sports

figures with the earnest

enthusiasm of Teen Beat

subscribers.

 

Unlike other stars, athletes seem

to have earned the spotlight in

which they bask. Cultures have

turned butt floss into gold

since the Greeks made groping an

Olympic event, true, but modern

athletics mean it's not enough

to admire the idea of athletic

perfection, you have to admire

the perfection of the specific

athlete. Joe Louis, Babe Ruth,

and Muhammed Ali certainly

weren't living in obscurity, but

today the number of athletes

worthy of worship has increased

tenfold.

 

Perhaps a deluge of well-crafted

sports marketing spots has

created the illusion of an

increase in human perfection,

but the fact remains that these

superhumans are quicker, more

agile, more insanely powerful,

and just plain better-looking

than they were 20 years ago. And

they look especially good

sweating and gulping down

bottles of Gatorade.

 

[]

Tiger's critics can gripe all

they want, but viewers won't

begrudge him his multimillions

just because his youth, race,

and terrific smile are part of

the deal. Not only do fans love

to love the zoom-in for that

end-of-the-game hug with Dad,

but they experience each Tiger

moment as an Epic Moment in

Sports History. They memorize

each shot, just in case, so they

can say "I saw it when it

happened" 20 years from now.

Repeated exposure to old footage

of Jackie Robinson reinforces

the importance of seeing epic

moments live. And even if they

don't recognize the shot from

the live coverage, they'll most

certainly recognize it from the

Nike ad that followed, and

that's almost as good.

 

Tiger churns out tearful

moments of Joy® and

Excitement®. The relatively

unrehearsed nature of

professional sports makes

watching famous professional

athletes, overhyped or no, one

of the last arenas of public

life not completely polluted by

irony. The best episode of Party

of Five may make you think and

cry and laugh your ass off, but

knowing that it is supposed to

work that way makes it feel

dirty in retrospect. With an NBA

playoff game or the Masters or

the NCAA Basketball Tournament,

though, you can get carried

away, because you've convinced

yourself that it's really

happening, and because you

really like and respect many of

the participants, Rodman and

assorted asshole golf-fogies

notwithstanding. At the very

least, their abilities are

undeniable, so much so that

we're strangely drawn to those

garish sneakers on their feet.

 

[]

Still, although it's beyond

obvious that image is Job One,

the same image rules don't apply

to every sport or sex. Sponsors

encourage sports figures to

accentuate their "rebellious"

images - Agassi with his "wild"

clothes and hair, Tiger with his

minority status, Venus Williams

with her flying white beads. But

not all forms of "rebellion" are

created equal.

 

[]

Titleist's recent decision to

pull US$1.5 million in

advertising out of Sports

Illustrated for what Wally

Uihlein, the chairman of the

company, refers to as "a

condescending mindset toward

women in golf in general"

demonstrates how little

tolerance marketers have for

unsanctioned images. His remarks

seem righteously feminist, yet

the article itself focuses on

the "image problem" caused by

the LPGA Dinah Shore Tournament,

which has come to be known as a

"lesbian spring break." So we're

unclear on which "problem"

Titleist is protecting women's

golf from - condescension or

lesbians.

 

The Titleist decision comes,

at a time when athletic

goods companies are pursuing women

with unprecedented fervor, and for the

first time, not as pinup girls,

but as women for whom "push up"

is a exercise, not a bra style. This

chasing after market share

partially explain the interest

shown in girl-wonder golfer

Kelli Kuehne. Naturally, Nike

doesn't really care whether or

not Kuehne actually wins. After

all, she's cute, friends with

Tiger Woods, a debutante

(rich!), a sorority girl

(popular!), and she's engaged

(not gay!)! She was a brand

waiting to happen from the day

she was born, and she's already

won her greatest victory: a $1.5

million endorsement deal with

the Swooshstika itself.

 

[]

And if Kelli's a brand, her dad

is a brand manager: "We were in

the right time and place," says

Ernie Kuehne, "There may not

ever be another Tiger Woods to

follow. One of the golf writers

wrote that Generation X

potential is worth more than

stardom. He's right." Indeed,

were Kelli to go on a slutting

binge or say something

insensitive about debutantes or

sororities or men or sweatshops,

she'd do far more damage to her

income than she would just by

playing bad golf.

 

It's clear enough who's getting

screwed here. Cuties like Kelli

are sipping fresh fruit

smoothies and getting two-hour

massages while older, less

heterosexual, or otherwise less

"marketable" athletes Just Do

It, day in and day out. But if

true worth as a human had

anything to do with branding,

Cindy Crawford would be ringing

up our lipstick purchases at

Wal-Mart.

 

It's easy enough to find those

who'll say they're "sick of

Jordan" or they "won't watch

that overhyped kid" Tiger; such

protests are more about symbolic

self-denial than legitimate

disgust, like George Foreman on

a hunger strike. Describe

Tiger's 12-under-par victory

punch (Yes!) to such a protestor

of sports hype, and they'll give

you a look of deprived longing

that'll tell you all you need to

know.

 

Because no matter how many times

that victory punch is rehashed

and enhanced and spliced, you're

seeing a real person. One with a

nice smile, who loves his

father.

 

[]

And if Jordan wins the damn thing

again, we'll get choked up, even

though he could keep winning it

forever and ever and ever. We'd

still be thrilled at the sheer

proportions, the Best of the

Best-ness of it all. And the

history-in-the-making epic

moments would just keep piling

up, one on top of the last.

 

Not to mention the shoes.

 
 
 
courtesy of Polly Esther
 
 
 

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