The institution of marriage is constantly under threat from within and without. Two recent incidents are at the fore in pummelling the sanctity and relevance of marriage. The seriousness of these happenings is deepened because those at the centre are persons we aspire to be like – super stars – those we call celebrities. I’m talking about Tiger Woods, undoubtedly the greatest golfer of our time, and married with two children, and John Terry, one of soccer’s finest talents, and captain of both Chelsea football club and the England national team. Both sportsmen are role models to many of us and for different reasons, and have let us down in the recent past, leaving us questioning their values and morals.
Writer, Neal Gabler, argues that celebrity status once earned, makes one public property. This is in an article titled: “Why we can’t look away”, recently carried by Newsweek magazine in reference to Tiger Woods’s indiscretions. And that is why celebrities have to be careful about what they do, for their actions, whether good or bad, are open to judgment by the public. Some dealings may be mundane, others fascinating, and like Tiger’s case right now, completely lurid. Tiger is claimed to have cheated on his wife with several women, wrongdoing he has since admitted. Before the transgressions that reduced his favour with the public, he had a carefully cultivated image – a responsible, hardworking husband and father. That’s why his image has been used to promote the sport of golf and endorse many goods and services. The reach of golf has expanded dramatically, thanks to Tiger.
There is the likelihood that many golfers and young men have in the past looked up to him and, in fact, aspired to be like him. That means that we are truly injured when that person we look up to turns out to be not so responsible after all. One indiscretion, we forgive easily; a second time, he is pushing it, but we still forgive. But when his indiscretions add to double digits, then we have a big problem with him. Both Tiger and Terry are public figures and become fair game, especially to tabloids, whenever they step out of their private space. We watch them carefully and mimic what they do, which is precisely why they are paid huge sums of money to endorse products.
John Terry is not just a footballer; he is captain of a much-loved team the world over, Kenya included, and his national team! Football lovers place much trust in him, and many youngsters aspire to be what he is. He cheated on his wife several times with one woman. He also happens to come from a country that has a most unforgiving – if not intrusive – media (just ask the royal family).
Far be it for me to moralise, I am not married and I do not know the goings on within marriage, apart from what I hear. But as a young man who, like many others, and for whatever reason, aspires to marriage, and who has been fascinated over time by the exploits of these two sports stars – Tiger and Terry gave me something to hope for. Now I feel adrift when it turns out that they may not be as committed to their spouses as I thought they were.
So where do we go from here? Well, Tiger has been checked into a sex addiction clinic and John Terry’s saga continues to unfold – trust the English media to furnish us with even the goriest details. Young men and women of my ilk have two choices, either to forgive these two and others in their shoes, or look for new role models. The first option may not be that easy because you know that once trust has been broken, it is nigh impossible to regain it. The second is even harder because how are we to know what the new role models get up to in their free time? We may end up getting hoodwinked again.
These feelings of disappointment I am expressing do not in any way suggest that I hold the gold standard for morality and sensible behaviour. Though that is precisely the reason we have role models – people we look up to because we adore, believe in and want to be like them, isn’t it? When they turn out to be just like you, or even worse off, you feel cheated because then there is nothing to aspire to. You have to seek another role model. True, Tiger did not ask to be a role model but he did things and carried himself in ways that are admirable, and so he became one by virtue of his commendable qualities. Otherwise, why don’t we get as outraged when Mike Tyson misbehaves? Sadly, it is because we almost always expect him to do so.
Note: Golf has broken the social barrier attached to this once high society game, thanks largely to Tiger Woods, and is well on its way to breaking the gender barrier. Football broke the gender barrier long ago and females are today huge fans of the popular game the world over.