Jayne: Narcissism runs in sports stars

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor




The retort was short and to the point — “scoreboard” — and it got me thinking about the nature of fandom.

Last week, you see, as Tiger Woods was rolling to his first victory in 2 years, I posted some thoughts online about how it appears that his fall from grace has done little to impact his fan base.

If you didn’t root for him before, you certainly don’t root for him now; but if you did root for him before, you probably still do, even though he has been exposed as a “narcissistic sleazeball.”

OK, so it wasn’t the most gracious comment. But I still think it’s accurate.

The narcissistic part would appear to be self-evident. It’s one of the traits that makes Woods a great athlete, and it’s one of the traits that makes him interesting. To be great, particularly in an individual sport and in an age of saturation media coverage, an extreme level of self-centeredness is a prerequisite.

The Mayo Clinic tells us that, “Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard other people’s feelings.”

Anybody have a better description for Tiger?

I didn’t think so.

From Muhammad Ali to Michael Jordan to Barry Bonds to Tiger Woods, that seems like an appropriate personality profile. The greatest athletes, the ones who have a pathological need for domination, have something in their DNA that goes beyond their physical gifts and helps them transcend their sport.

As Bill Simmons describes it, Jordan was “homicidally competitive,” and I have yet to run across a better explanation for Michael Jordan. It doesn’t make for the finest person, but it does help make him who he is.

That can be endlessly fascinating. It doesn’t mean that the greatest athletes are better people or worse people than you or me; it does mean that they are different.

Yet while I would argue until I’m breathless that Woods is narcissistic, the “sleazeball” portion of the comment is more subjective.

I think that a married man allegedly cheating on his wife with porn stars and waitresses and more than a dozen other women is pretty sleazy, but that’s just my opinion. Cheating once can be a mistake; serial cheating reveals a character flaw.

And, yes, I would feel completely different about this if Woods hadn’t been married while he was, er, um, spending time with a waitress in an Escalade in a church parking lot.

For those who don’t think it’s sleazy, answer this question: If your son-in-law cheated on your daughter with porn stars, wouldn’t you find that pretty vile? That’s what I thought.

But to sports fans, none of this matters much. That’s part of the attraction of the games — the opportunity to temporarily separate fun and games from the grind of everyday life. Sports offer us a disconnect, an escape, and that creates a conundrum when the real world intervenes and we are confronted with the humanity of our favorite athletes.

All of which makes Tiger Woods so compelling. All of which brings us back to the “scoreboard” comment.

One colleague who questioned my depiction of Woods ended the discussion with “scoreboard,” as if the fact that he won again somehow absolves him of his shortcomings.

It’s the bottom-line answer for a sports fan, the notion that what’s on the scoreboard is all that matters, and it plays into the nature of the games we watch. Sports are appealing because there’s resolution at the end of the day; there’s a winner and a loser and the next day the score starts again at 0-0.

Real life, alas, is not so simple.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne