Sunday, February 18, 2007

I should have learned my lesson about this ...

but Pat, I'm calling you out on the blog. Hopefully this won't lead to another shitstorm. I was just reading your otherwise lovely article on Tiger coming to Tucson, and my eyes seemed to be sticking on the first line:

The biggest sports star in the world was annoyed.

For a few seconds, I couldn't figure out why. And then I thought, "Oh, I know what it is. It sounds weird because there's no fucking way Tiger Woods is the biggest sports star in the world."

Now, I know hyperbole is a time-honored staple of sportswriting, and I don't blame you for using it in that context. Tiger's unquestionably the biggest sports star ever to come to Tucson for an event. I'm not saying you even actually believe he's the biggest sports star in the world.

However, just in case you do believe that, allow me to summarily disagree.

A few reasons he's not:

1. He's a fucking golfer, for chrissakes. He plays golf. No golfer will ever be the world's biggest sports star for a very simple reason: nobody outside of the UK and the US really gives a rat's ass about golf (and even in those countries, it's a low sporting priority).

2. While US pop culture and its attendant branding unquestionably dominates world culture -- whoever the biggest pop star/let is at the moment is also probably the biggest pop star in the world -- not even mighty Nike can make Tiger Woods the biggest sports star. Not when they already burned Michael Jordan's silhouette into every young retina from Siberia to Sierra Leone. Not when Yao Ming is from China. Not when soccer exists.

3. Race. I know you brothers Finley are probably throwing things at my lawn-jockey effigy right now, yelling "this has nothing to do with race!" But I'm not talking about racism here -- at least not in the usual sense. I'm just pointing out that Tiger's mixed heritage makes it hard for any ethnic group to really embrace him. For all the Nike-propagated ballyhoo about Tiger bringing golf to the diverse masses, you don't see a whole lot of black people really pulling for Tiger. There's a reason Nas mentioned him specifically in that song where he calls everybody Uncle Toms. I'm not sure exactly what that reason is -- maybe he's not "street" enough (there, now you can call me a racist, too) -- but it's true and it's obvious. Maybe Filipinos love him, but how big can the Filipino golf-fan base really be? In other words, while his mixed race makes whites embrace him like perhaps no black athlete ever (an interesting phenomenon in itself), he's doesn't have all of Africa rooting for him -- not like Yao does with China. And even if he did, China has a billion people and change.

I'd be willing to bet that this topic has already generated some discussion in the Finley household, and I'd further be willing to bet that you, Pat -- you crafty bastard -- chose the phrasing of your lead carefully, more carefully even than you normally do (and to your credit, your stuff seems to me carefully written -- I'm actually serious about that, and mean it as a compliment -- much more so than most writing I read, sports or otherwise). "Biggest" is vague and hard to argue against. But, judging by the overall focus of the story, it seems like you mean it in terms of star power (rather than ability, which is an impossible argument to have): name recognition, image recognition, and just all-around famousness and pull.

Still, though, I disagree. I don't know enough about soccer to say who the biggest star in international soccer is at the moment. As a reprehensible racist, hegemonist, Westernist, mutist, etc. (saved you the trouble, Seth), I'd guess that in terms of international star power, the biggest soccer star is David Beckham. But if B or some other soccerite wants to suggest other options, particularly nonwhite stars who might appeal to the non-whites who comprise the majority of the world, I'm listening. In any event, I'd be willing to bet that soccer, being unquestionably the world's most popular sport, has at least three stars bigger than Tiger (on the world stage -- and really, as my boy Billy once said, all the world's a stage).

I also think Yao Ming is bigger than Tiger. He's the first major American sports star from the most populous nation and continent on earth. He's also pretty popular among Americans.

I'm not sure which of them is necessarily the world's biggest sports star. And maybe I'm forgetting somebody, in which case I hope Doyle or some of our readers will stridently rebuke me.

But it sure ain't Tiger.


Bryan Rosenbaum said...

This is fantastic. I was reading a copy of Hansen's Monday column where he said the exact same thing and I repeated it to RF as if to say, 'Oh really?'

Tiger Woods is on the level of Michael Schumacher. As in, well yes, I suppose he's one of the most famous sportsman in the world, but he isn't more famous than approximately 10 soccer and 10 basketball players.

This has started a shitstorm on the westside, btw.

Ryan said...


Hardly — it's not like Justin called out the entire profession (again); it's a good point from an informed guy who has spent time in Europe, Mexico and Russia in the last two years. Dude has an international world view.

But I'm down for a good argument: because the subject has nothing to do with David Beckham's pop-star wife or Pat Burrell's strikeout ratio, I can finally join the conversation. So I'll do something all sportswriters (the good ones, at least): play the semantics card.

It depends what Pat meant by "biggest".

If it means the guy the most people could pick out of a box score, or identify in a picture, Justin's right. There are probably 15 interational players that "The World" would recognize before Tiger.

And since 90 percent of the world follows soccer (and lives in poverty, I'd assume), it's safe to say there would be mostly soccer guys on that list. Pele. Beckham. Ronaldo. Ronaldinho. Shit, Totti. Well, maybe not the last one. Africans, South Americans and (apparently, according to B) Chinese love them some soccer. They also make up the majority of the world's population.

My guess here is that only two American stars — Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan — would make a run at the popular vote should it ever come to one. Ali and MJ are icons — and, of course, it helps to have Nike and Adidas in your corner.

But if Pat was describing biggest as best, Tiger Woods is the most dominant player in any sport in the modern era. No argument. Don't waste my time or my retinas by trying to argue that point on this blog.

Consider: Fifty players in the history of the sport have won 10 or more tournaments in their careers; Tiger has won 55. The only people with more are Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer. Snead, Nicklaus and Palmer played for 30 years apiece. Ben Hogan melted down and walked away from competition.

Tiger Woods is 31.

Tiger plays agains the best players in the world (can't say that about baseball or football, maybe not even basketball) every week. If Tiger were to quit the Tour tomorrow to start his own one, the PGA would fold.

I can hear Justin choking on a buttersotch TastyKake now: but it's GOLF. Fine. It's BASEBALL. It's FOOTBALL. It's BASKETBALL.. Face it: if we're talking about global popularity, we're all just looking up at soccer. And that's not a pretty sight: those shorts are SHORT.

And because I can't leave it alone: To say that people don't like Tiger because of his racial background is the single most idiotic thing I've ever read. If anything, Tiger's background makes him more appealing to the rest of the world.

NIke, Buick, Accenture, EA Sports, Upper Deck, American Express, General Motors, Disney, Warner Books and TAG Heuer don't pay him $89.3M a year to do sign autographs at the Park Place Mall.

So, Justin, you're 1-for-2. Your VORA (value over rpelacement antagonist) ratio is falling.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the problem is mainly one of semantics, but I see the semantic issue somewhat differently than Ryan. While he focues on the concept "biggest", I'm more interested in the bifurcation between subjective and objective in terms of sports hierarchy. So, for example, Justin's subjective list of the biggest sports stars would consist of people like MJ, Beckham, Pele, Ming, etc., which is all fine and good if you're not primarily interested in objective truth. However, I personally think it's vitally important to come up with a way to measure objective excellence in the sports world. To that end, I've created the following approach:

The sports-semantics A Let L be a first-order modal language. We now
turn to the problem of formulating a pure sport-semantics for L which models the applied semantics developed above. A model structure for I is a quadruple (D, W, φ, φ) such that D and W are nonempty sets. φ is a function which assigns to each w e W a nonempty subset Dw of D such that everything in D belongs to some Dw. 0 is a function which assigns to every pair (F, w), where F is an ^-ary predicate symbol and w e W, a set of ^-tuples of objects from Dw. The components of the quadruple are to be interpreted as follows: D is a set of essences, W a set of possible worlds, Dw the set of essences exemplified in w,and φ(F,w) the set of ^-tuples of essences which are coexemplified with F in w. That every element of D belongs to some Dw corresponds to the requirement that every essence be possibly exemplified, and that ψ(F, w) only contain tuples whose components are in Dw corresponds to the requirement of serious
actualism that only objects existing in a world can have properties or stand in
relations in that world. If M is a model structure for L and w e W, then the pair (M, w) is a sports star for L with domain Dw. The sports star (M,w) will be represented by MW.

Now gentlemen, what is interesting is that by using the above objective formula, I come up with the following list of the 10 biggest sports stars:

1. Shaun Alexander
2. Matt Hasselbeck
3. Walter Jones
4. Josh Brown
5. Lofa Tatupu
6. Deion Branch
7. Mack Strong
8. Ken Hamlin
9. Julian Peterson
10. Marcus Trufant

Interestingly, when I adjust the equation to allow for coaches, Mike Holmgren comes out on top.

So, while I'm sure some of you are going to object that the list contains only Seahawks, please note that has nothing to do with my subjective feelings about the situation. Objective truth is objective truth, after all, and the objective truth in our world is that the Seahawk roster contains the greatest athletes in the history of Earth.

GO 'HAWKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!