A Tiger Woods story shows us that we do not know athletes. At all.

Associated Press
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I don’t watch golf. I don’t play golf. I don’t care about golf. When I’m being less mindful of the importance of the “don’t hate that other people like things you don’t” mindset, I have some less-than-great opinions about PEOPLE who are super into golf (I’m working on it; apologies). But yesterday Wright Thompson’s epic deep dive into the psyche of Tiger Woods was published at ESPN and it is the best story about a sports figure I’ve read in a long while.

The extraordinarily short version is that Tiger Woods is a messed up dude with issues about his late father and a fixation on all things military — specifically Navy SEALS — which shoved golf and everything else out of his head for years and may very well have caused the physical breakdown of his body which effectively ended his dominance as a golfer. Though, of course, the mental stuff may have ended it before that. Hard to say. Either way, it’s fascinating, not only for that, but because Thompson got Michael Jordan of all people to sit for an interview about Woods. Woods may have faded from the spotlight in recent years, but you’re a big deal when someone of Michael Jordan’s stature gives an interview that isn’t about him, but about YOU.

Though this isn’t a baseball story, I link it here because it informs a topic I talk about here a lot, and that’s the armchair psychology of athletes fans and reporters like to pursue. The stuff in which, the night of a game or the day after, fans and the media weigh-in on so-and-so’s character or makeup and try to draw conclusions about their mental state and drive and all of that because the guy hit a big homer or sank a key putt or thew a touchdown pass.

I’ve always hated that, but a story like Thompson’s shows us just how silly such a thing truly is. We have NO IDEA what makes these guys tick. The notion that we can tell anything significant about a guy’s character based on a game or match is comical. They have lives. WEIRD lives, as the Woods story shows. We attribute character to athletes based on their performance but a lot of the time — most of the time? — their performance is what happens despite their character or mental state, not because of it. They’re human beings, not repositories of our need to engage in hero-creation.

To be clear, Thompson is no psychologist himself and I’m not suggesting that he necessarily nails Woods here any better than a next-day column about him winning the Masters might’ve (Woods and his people didn’t talk to him). But his extensive reporting does reveal how totally blind those who wrote those next-day columns were to what was really going in in Woods’ life and in his head. All we knew when he was winning majors was what he was doing on the links and whatever else we could get from the tabloids. We didn’t know he was jumping out of airplanes, running miles in combat boots and having Navy SEALS literally shoot at him.

We love our athletes. We love what they do on the field, on the court, on the ice or on the links. But we don’t know them and can’t know them based on that alone. We should stop even bothering to try to do so in such a reflexive manner and, rather, presume that there is far more that we don’t know than that which we know.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.