February 24, 2010
There's a great urban legend about Michael Jordan that holds his 1993 "retirement" -- he was just coming off his third straight championship and suddenly bailed on the league -- was actually an NBA-ordered suspension arising from Jordan's proclivity for gambling. Whether or not it's true, it sounds like it could be, as the NBA could punish Jordan while allowing him to save face.
Which brings us, as always, to Tiger Woods. Tiger obviously isn't playing golf right now, even though he theoretically could. The explanation he's offered is that he's taking time off to focus on his marriage. Reasonable, and also a pretty darn good idea.
Still, while Woods' relationship issues are a family matter, his impact on the game most certainly is not. So what actions might the PGA Tour take against Woods for actions detrimental to the game?
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has reiterated several times that Woods has not been suspended for his actions. To which many reply, "why the heck not?"
Before people start screaming, "this is a private matter!", hold on. There's plenty of public effect and blowback to Tiger's actions. The issue is, however, that oversight isn't quite so cut-and-dried in the PGA Tour as in other sports, which naturally gives the Tour the ability to play a little fast and loose with rules and their application. (That's the "ability." Not that they'd ever do that, of course.)
As Jason Sobel points out in a comprehensive article on the suspension over at ESPN.com, while the PGA Tour says that suspensions will be handed out only for on-course behavior, both John Daly and Jim Thorpe have apparently been suspended in recent months. I say "apparently" because, like everything else the PGA Tour does, there's no public release of information, leading only to speculation and suggestion. And, as the Tiger Woods PR fiasco showed, withholding information and allowing misinformation to spread is just flat-out insane.
So here's the question. It doesn't appear that the PGA Tour suspended Tiger. Quite the contrary; it appears that the Tour is bending over backward -- yes, there's a joke to be made here -- to accommodate Tiger. But if the Tour didn't suspend Tiger and did suspend Daly and Thorpe, for behavioral and tax-related offenses respectively, where's the equal justice?
Sobel does an excellent job of pinning down Finchem to explain the rationale for the Tour's arcane, keep-everything-secret approach to suspensions. Finchem offers up this quote:
"You know, we take the view that if something happens in your personal life, it is not subject for disciplinary action. The fact that another individual or individuals made it public doesn't dissuade us from that attitude. I don't know of any other sport that disciplines a player for things like that in their private life." (Emphasis added.)
... which is, to put it mildly, way off base. Michael Vick wasn't fighting dogs on the Falcons sideline; Plaxico Burress didn't shoot himself in the leg in the middle of a Giants game. That also doesn't explain the suspensions of Daly or Thorpe, who didn't pass out covered in Hooters sauce or misfile their taxes while on the golf course, either.
The PGA Tour can't have it both ways. (Yes, I realize how naive that sounds when you're talking about Tiger.) Tiger has done more to damage the reputation and perception of golf than any other golfer in memory, perhaps ever. If the PGA Tour wants to demonstrate who's really in charge, it could clarify its rules -- Tour members either can or can't be suspended for actions that make the game look bad, no "case-by-case basis" -- and then decide whether Tiger meets that standard. Sure, Tiger's not a punching bag like Daly or a little-known Champions Tour player like Thorpe, but one of the guiding principles of golf is that the same rules apply to everyone.
Of course, the PGA Tour could continue to do nothing. That'd show who's in charge just as effectively.