Hard to believe it’s been only a year since the world’s most beloved, clean-cut, fresh-faced sports icon and high-end product pusher attacked an as-yet-unrevealed hard object with his theretofore fresh face.
A lot has changed in the past 12 months.
After a record 281 straight weeks at the top, Tiger Woods is now ranked No. 2 behind Lee Westwood. Elin Nordegren is now “independently” wealthy. And the sports-media consumer’s appetite for the salacious has gone from merely peckish to desperately ravenous.
I suppose we knew intuitively that casual sports fans were more interested in sex than sports, and it probably figured that even diehard sports fans were more interested in sex than sports. Sex is sex, after all.
But we didn’t know the Mega Sports Celebrity Sex Scandal v. Actual Sports showdown would be such a blowout. The Super Bowl might get big ratings, but it doesn’t spend 20 straight days on the front page of the New York Post as Tiger did in breaking the record for consecutive covers. (Previous title-holder: 9/11.)
Tiger Woods didn’t invent the sports sex scandal. It’s been a longstanding American tradition.
A century ago heavyweight champ Jack Johnson threw white America the brutal 1-2 combination of beating the hell out of all the Caucasian fighters and then flaunting his predilection for white ladies. Can you guess which one landed him in jail?
Babe Ruth was a legendary engager in matters of the flesh, and part of that legend has it that he sat out a good portion of the 1925 season because of complications from a venereal disease. Ya think that story might have been slightly more reported today?
In 1949 poor Eddie Waitkus had the worst sports sex scandal of all time, since it excluded the sex. When Waitkus accepted the invitation of tall brunette Ruth Ann Steinhagen to come to her hotel room he probably thought he’d have a slightly better time than getting shot with a .22-caliber rifle. (He survived and became the inspiration for The Natural).
Baseball has always been a solid provider of tabloid fodder through the years, giving us such titillation as Mamie Van Doren and Bo Belinsky, wife swappers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson and As A-Rod’s World Turns. (Madonna is her own subset of sports sex scandals.)
Some sports sex scandals are kind of funny (Marv Albert’s cross-dressing and biting, the Vikings’ Love Boat, Michael Vick aka Ron Mexico); others, not so much (Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant).
Eugene Robinson on Super Bowl eve, Patrick Ewing at the Gold Club, Rick Pitino ordering off the a la carte after-dinner menu, Tiki Barber and the babysitter — they’ve piled up over the years.
No, Tiger didn’t invent the sex scandal. He just perfected it.
Even though we’d had countless sports sex scandals, some unfathomably improbable, to jade us, nothing could have prepared us for Tiger. The perfect storm. A supposedly squeaky-clean married superstar from an uber-conservative sport turned out to be Jack Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and Don Draper all rolled into one.
Overnight Tiger went from being the reliable dad who used a Gillette shaver, put his Nike equipment in the trunk of his Buick, checked his TAG Heuer watch and headed out to work to an oversexed R. Crumb caricature.
The story was a bonfire, and every time it flickered the slightest bit, along came Josyln James, Jaimee Grubbs, Holly Sampson or Gloria Allred (presumably not a mistress) to provide fresh timber for the fire.
Just like Tiger, the sports media consumer couldn’t get enough. And the more the consumer consumed, the more he wanted.
It was an appetite that could be satisfied by only one thing: alleged photos of Brett Favre’s penis.
If we were wondering whether sports media culture was really forever changed by Tiger, the Favre-Jenn Sterger story confirmed it pretty definitively.
Once Deadspin.com broke the story — and enjoyed quadruple-traffic spikes — other media outlets weren’t about to be left behind. The Today Show booked Deadspin editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio. The feeding frenzy was on.
Yes, the past 12 months have taught us in the online sports media — one click at a time — that even the most hardcore sports fans are vastly more interested in hardcore sexts than in sports.
A photo of Peyton Hillis in his too-tight jersey with his big guns blazing linking to a real football story is no match for a photo of Jenn Sterger in her too-tight jersey with her guns blazing, even if it’s linking to a no-new-info non-story.
If the Favre-Sterger saga were a TV show, the ratings would be American Idol meets all the CSIs combined. (Or Sunday Night Football meets America’s Next Top-Heavy Model.)
There’s a new world order in sports media: If it heaves, cleaves or heavy breathes, it leads.
But two massage therapists notwithstanding, there’s nothing to indicate the Ol’ Gunslinger and his Li’l Gunslinger are going to be able to match Tiger bimbo eruption for bimbo eruption.
Which means this story, too, will pass. Gulp.
How now will we ever feed the beast?
All we can say is, thank you, Tony Parker, sports nation turns its prying eyes to you.