Thursday, December 3, 2009

Taking a Look at Tiger and the Great 8

Over the past several months, while All-Pro Imagery sat dormant, waiting for me to update, provide an opinion, make an argument or whine about something, a ton has gone on in the sports world. With our new business, API Sports Management& Marketing, starting to grow and events and clients mounting on an almost daily basis, I was always too busy, too tired – or too busy AND too tired – to write. But, thanks to a writer friend of mine, I’ve learned that I need to write to be happy.

Writing is therapeutic for me and something that I’ve been trained to do, so it comes easily and naturally. It’s how I express myself best, which is both a blessing and a curse – ask anyone who has received one of my long emails. So, as I get busier and life becomes even more stressful, I’m going to do my best to keep writing. I think it will have a calming and uplifting effect. Please check back often as I hope to blog multiple times per week. If I don’t, remind me that I need to!

Now, with all that has gone on recently, I’d like to say this about that:

Tiger Woods
Sports fans and sports reporters need to wake up. Tiger is not in the minority when it comes to pro athletes and entertainers. He fits right in. And to be honest, I ‘m not sure he’s in the minority among the American public. Maybe, but I don’t think any of us are perfect enough to continually judge others for their mistakes. And if he is in the overall minority, it sure ain’t the minority by much.

When the reports of Tiger’s accident first surfaced, the tweets and blogs hummed across cyberspace accusing him of being drunk. It was at that point that I tweeted for people not to judge until the facts were released. My point, and I would like to see a show of hands: How many of us have never had a few drinks and gotten behind the wheel? How many of us know people who have had a few drinks and gotten behind the wheel? So, why is it okay to throw those accusations around about ANYBODY? Oh, because he’s a role model to millions (or more)? Aren’t you and I a role model for the children and loved ones in our lives? We’re all human – yes, including those who report the news. As a journalism graduate and former reporter and writer I’ve seen that side of life first-hand, too.

The days of finding that one superstar athlete who is the “perfect human being” are long gone. I have news for you, with the possible exception of Tim Tebow, none of them are. And I’m sure Tebow isn’t either. Ask his mom, dad, girlfriend or coach. That’s what makes us all unique and makes life interesting. We aren’t robots programmed to do the “right” thing all the time.

Collegiate and professional athletes have an amazing talent that thrills and disappoints, exhilarates and frustrates. They are entertainers of the highest level. That’s God’s gift to us and His gift to them. That’s why they are and should be appreciated. Yes, our kids look up to them, but our kids also look up to singers, movie stars and other celebrities. How’s that going for them from the role model perspective? They also look up to mom and dad, who – at least in my world and from my personal experiences and observations – screw up regularly.

The difference is that when most of us screw up, we owe an explanation to a small group of people. For some reason athletes of Tiger’s magnitude owe an explanation to millions – or, in his case – even billions. And damn it, if he doesn’t give us that explanation while standing on his front porch within hours of the incident, he’s hiding something and is a bad person.

Tiger’s “transgressions” have no bearing on my life whatsoever. His decisions and actions have only been felt by his family. I am no better, nor am I any worse off for what has transpired in his world during the past week. He lives in a gated community for a reason. He has done more than enough explaining. Now he has to face his toughest audience of all – the ones he loves. That should be enough.

And, as far as his foundation and his work with kids, this will all turn into a valuable story and lesson that he can pass along to young people everywhere – once he’s gotten his personal and family life in order. And that doesn’t have to happen in a few short hours – or even in a few days or weeks – in front of television cameras and microphones.

I don’t know Tiger Woods personally, but from what I’ve seen and heard while pursuing my line of work, he seems like a pretty good guy. I prefer to judge the entire body of work, not the latest submission. In my personal experiences since starting API two years ago, I have heard about how some people have put me down and said things about me that were simply not true. It happened last summer, and it’s happened again recently. But probably the most valuable PR/business lesson that I learned from working nearly 10 years with Cal Ripken, Jr., was this: Always try to do the right thing and take the high road.

I know, it sounds like a trite oversimplification, but if you are transparent in your dealings with other people, do what you do to the best of the ability and trust in your experience and expertise, what others say or think shouldn’t matter. The defensive person most times is the guilty person. If you are above board and do your best, your reputation will precede you and others will trip at some point and expose themselves. I have to thank my partner for also beating that philosophy into my head on a daily basis.

So, I’m just not ready to say that Tiger is a bad person. He’s a human being, like the rest of us, who made a mistake. I’m sure it’s not his first, and it won’t be his last. What thrills me is that he is one of the greatest professional athletes of all-time, who just happens to be in his prime as I am sprinting past mine. And I still have a lot of years left to enjoy his magic on the golf course.

Alex Ovechkin
Okay, so I grew up in the D.C. area and have been a Capitals fan since Day 1. I’m stating that bias up front.

But, as someone who also has played and coached hockey since I was five years old, I want to state this fact, which I don’t even consider open for argument: If you had to choose one player in the world to start a professional hockey franchise with, it would be Ovechkin. I say that with all due respect to Crosby, Malkin, Chara, Tavares and the rest. There is no one who plays with the combination of speed, skill, desire and physicality that he brings to the ice. In fact, he may stand alone in NHL annals when it comes to possessing that complete package (That is open for debate!).

In recent days Ovechkin has alternately been painted by many fans and media personnel as a bad guy, a dirty player, reckless and/or careless. I’m going to fall back on the Tiger argument here: Do you know any 24-year-olds who are a bit reckless and careless? Who think that maybe they are invincible? Who drive their cars too fast or don’t wear their seat belts or have a few too many beers before driving? How did you behave at age 24? How do you behave now?

I have the good fortune of seeing Ovechkin on an almost daily basis and observing how hard he practices, how he is appreciated by his teammates, how much he cares about being the best, how he gives his best effort every single night, how excited he gets when other players score and how much he hates to lose. I also get the insider’s point of view at times since one of my former bosses, a former intern of mine and a friend whose son I coach in baseball and hockey all work for the Caps.

While I know that many of you in Philly, Pittsburgh, New York, Buffalo and now Carolina won’t agree with me, Ovechkin is not a dirty player and he’s certainly not a bad guy. He happens to play the game at a speed that, to be frank, is not normal by even NHL standards. He’s all-out, all the time, and at 225-plus lbs., when you are moving that fast, your ability to stop or turn on a dime and to swerve at the last second to avoid a potentially damaging hit is extremely difficult.

All year long we’ve heard about how Tom Brady is being over-protected and receiving the royal treatment. Football fans have openly wondered how a large, athletic person moving at full speed and ready to engage another player can stop his momentum on the spot and not follow through on a hit. Ovechkin, while not 250 or 350 lbs., is still quite a load. And he’s on skates. On top of that – and I’m just guessing here – I think he’s moving a little faster than Albert Haynesworth. Does anyone really think that Ovechkin would want to subject his knee to the type of impact and trauma it was exposed to in his most recent hit on Carolina’s Tim Gleason? C’mon man!

And for those who are claiming that this is his third incident since last season’s playoffs, let’s be real. I happen to be a Sergei Gonchar fan from his days with the Caps, but he has been known to run from contact and turn the puck over when pressured. Penguins fans should remember first-hand how he gave their team the puck and a playoff series win against Washington with an overtime turnover years ago. Gonchar caused that injury by trying to basically run and hide from Ovechkin, who apparently tortured him in Russia during the lockout year. Similarly, Gleason saw the freight train coming and made a quick, athletic move at the last second. Don’t get me wrong, I would have done the same (not as athletically, of course), so it’s not Gleason’s fault. But I’m just not convinced that Ovechkin, at that moment, could have done much to avoid the contact.

Don’t get me wrong, the officials had no choice but to penalize Ovechkin, and by rule, the league really had no choice but to suspend him. I’m not debating that, but he’s simply not a dirty player. He doesn’t use his stick to restrain people or carve guys up. He doesn’t fight. He’s never jumped a defenseless, unsuspecting opponent or sucker-punched a player engaged with another opponent like Sydney Crosby has. And I definitely don’t consider Crosby a dirty player.

Hockey is a contact sport. Fans and sports reporters everywhere complain on a regular basis about professional athletes. They get paid too much and don’t care. They don’t work hard every night. They don’t talk to the media. They have no personality. They don’t promote the game. They don’t love to play.

Wake up everyone. We have a guy who does all of that on a daily basis. Ovechkin gives 100 percent all the time, loves to play, celebrates for his teammates as much or more than for himself, wants to win badly, strives to the be best in the game, pokes fun at himself in commercials and in the media and promotes the sport.

He drove a Zamboni down Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and cruised D.C. on a Segway with several teammates for the love of God. Maybe he’s a 24-year-old who thinks he’s invincible. If that’s his greatest flaw, then perhaps we are all guilty – or have been – at some level. No matter how you slice it, his style of play and personality are good for the game and good for professional sports. We need more Alex Ovechkins, not fewer.