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Prister: Image is everything, but should it be? (Jan. 20)

Eric Prister | Sunday, January 22, 2012

When did athletes become politicians?

With the 2012 presidential election fast approaching, it becomes more and more clear what is most important in being elected to public office — image.

But when did image become most important to athletes too?

Rafael Nadal recently criticized fellow tennis great Roger Federer because Federer refused to speak out against the current state of professional tennis, as Nadal and others did.

At first glance for most, Nadal is in the wrong. Why should Federer speak out? He has no desire to stir up controversy. Federer is a great tennis player, and instead of bringing attention upon himself, he chose to stay quiet.

But what about the other side? Why shouldn’t Federer speak out? He certainly is, to some degree, bothered by the same issues that Nadal and others are bothered. So why does he remain silent?

Federer cares more about his image than the problems at hand. This is harsh, true, and in no way should one blame Federer for this, nor should one believe Federer has calculated that his image needs protecting. This de facto protection of an athlete’s image is unconscious and innate. But why is this the case?

When Tiger Woods won the Chevron World Challenge, his first tournament victory since 2009, he was asked if this win would serve as a springboard to next season and would be just the first step toward returning to his former greatness. His response was bland: He was just excited to have won. It felt good, and it was a great weekend of golf.

But what was Woods really thinking?

“You better believe this is a springboard! I’m back, baby, and anyone who isn’t careful is going to be trampled along the way. I am the greatest golfer of all time, and it’s long past time that I retake my rightful place.”

The response, which could be seen in his post-tournament fist pump, had to be toned down in the interview.

But why?

Athletes are instructed, even coached, to give unemotional, uninspired responses because they need to protect their image. But why is this necessary? These athletes are not being elected; they don’t need votes.

And it isn’t about success or stardom; LeBron James is just as popular (even in a bad way) as Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning. He is hated, yes, but that doesn’t keep people from buying tickets to watch him play.

Why can we not live in a world in which athletes speak exactly what is on their minds? If a quarterback is frustrated by the play of his team’s defense, why not say so? If a coach thinks his star rookie choked in the fourth quarter, must he hide this? And if a basketball player thinks his newly formed team will win not four, not five, not six rings and makes this belief public, is that so wrong?

Athletes protect their image for many reasons, but we are the ones that force them to do it. Journalists, fans and analysts bash athletes for speaking their mind — not for having those feelings (which is only natural), but for making them public. We criticize politicians for concerning themselves only with image, yet we have forced our athletes to do the same.

But really, in the end, I just want to thank my fellow writers, because without them none of this would be possible. I’ll come back out tomorrow and work hard and keep trying to get better. Oh, and I just need to keep taking it one article at a time.


Contact Eric Prister at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.