Forgiving Sporting Greats For Personal Failures

This weekend saw one of the greatest sporting comebacks of recent times as Tiger Woods won his 15 major title, winning the Masters 3,954 days after his previous win.

Woods had spinal fusion surgery in April 2017 and has had four back surgeries in his career.  He was able to start only 24 events in 4 years because of injury so to fight back to such a level at the age of 43 is, no doubt, no mean feat.  Sporting stars, presidents past and present and many other famous people have lauded the achievement.

However, in 2009 Woods was found bleeding and semi-conscious after his car hit a tree and fire hydrant outside his Florida home. He later apologised for letting his family down over a series of extra-marital affairs.  In 2017, he is charged with driving under the influence after being found asleep at the wheel of his car with the engine running.

In 2018, Tyson Fury completed a come back from the brink of both sporting and personal defeat when he hauled himself off the canvas to get a draw with Deontay Wilder.  Fury had been out the sport for two and a half years, ballooning to 400lbs.  He considered suicide as he battled depression and drug addiction before eventually returning to the ring, only to be denied the WBC heavyweight title by a controversial draw.

Fury has previously said that growing acceptance of homophobia is a sign that the end of the world is coming, defending his comments by saying he was a “roll model [sic]” who believes in Jesus.  He’s also had to defend himself against accusations of sexism.

In these instances we’re not talking about in game conduct within sporting culture, or pushing the boundaries of sporting culture.  This is not Luis Suarez repeatedly biting opponents, Serena Williams throwing round accusations against line judges or umpires or Roy Keane leaning over Alfe Inge Haaland telling him that he deserved the career ending injury that had just been handed out.  Nor is this drug cheats.

We’re talking here about acts of people, not sports people.  I’m wondering to what extent we should forgive the latter for the faults of the former.  It’s been said that some greats of sport have a streak in them – a selfish streak, an arrogant streak.  How much of that can they leave in the sporting arena where is makes them the best of their generation, and how much do they take home with them?

If Oscar Pistorius, currently serving a 13 year jail term for murdering his girlfriend in 2013, were to somehow be released early and successfully restart a career in athletics, would his achievements be held in such regard?

Should prowess and success on the pitch be somehow tempered by instances of a lack of such prowess of it, and where do we draw the line?

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