Tiger and Ben and the Wages of Sin

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

If you’re even the most casual of sports fans, you’ve undoubtedly followed the public scandals that have engulfed two modern day superstars – Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger.

Tiger Woods is, of course, the world famous golfer who’s won a ton of championships and has been listed as number one in the world for several years now. Tiger’s considered by some to be the best pro golfer ever in the long history of the game. Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers and has led the team to two Super Bowl Championships in the last few years. In recent months both Tiger and Ben have been connected to some serious, sordid tales of sexual misconduct.

For Tiger it began to unravel last Thanksgiving weekend when, while hurriedly escaping his Florida home in the wee hours of the morning he crashed his SUV, was injured and was taken to a local hospital. During the incident his gorgeous wife Elin smashed the windows of the car with a golf club – a use of the club not envisioned in Tiger’s endorsements – either to rescue him or to punish him, depending on which account you believe.

Simultaneously, reports of Tiger’s extramarital infidelities began to surface – first one, then a few, then more than a dozen – with a variety of young vixens around the country. Tabloids and major news channels jumped all over the story as the legend of the previously impervious Tiger crumbled in the dust. Tiger withdrew from sight, entered rehab, and only recently re-emerged on the golf links to try to rebuild both his game and his reputation.

I have to confess that the downfall of Tiger brought me a bit of personal vindication. I’ve never liked Tiger – always found him to be aloof, arrogant and angry. In fact in May of 1997 I wrote that “Tiger Woods is overrated . . . With relentless public pressure placed upon him, his public relations skills will fail by the time he’s twenty-five.” When I wrote that, I was accused of being a racist. But, while my timing was off, I think my instinct was right on target. Of course I also predicted that Tiger wouldn’t win very many golf tournaments. Ironically, in recent years my opinion of Tiger softened considerably and I admired the fact that he was a great husband and father. Wrong again.

Big Ben’s story’s a bit more condensed. In March of this year he was accused of the sexual assault of a young college student in the restroom of a bar in Georgia, after spending the evening bar hopping and drinking. Police authorities investigated but were unable to find enough evidence to press criminal charges. The police reports, however, were exceedingly sordid and sad. Strangely, Ben was accompanied by two Pittsburgh area off-duty cops who were along for the ride to protect him. Apparently their duties didn’t include protecting Ben from himself.

The Georgia episode follows on the heels of another accusation against Ben in which civil charges have been filed and are pending. In this case, Ben is accused of a 2008 sexual assault of a woman at a Lake Tahoe resort. Ben allegedly (you have to say that a lot these days) lured the young woman to his hotel room late at night to “fix his television.” (Now, that’s a pick-up line you don’t hear too often.) What took place in the room after that is disputed and the subject of the lawsuit.

Especially because of the Georgia affair Ben has now received a six game suspension by the National Football League, a penalty that could cost him as much as $3.3 million, and ordered to undergo counseling and treatment. It’s unclear how these incidents will affect Ben’s on-field performance or how he’ll be received by the fans back in Pittsburgh. Let’s just say that the citizens of Steelers Nation aren’t very happy right now.

As we recount and reflect upon the womanizing escapades of Tiger and Ben, the temptation is to criticize, ridicule and moralize. It’s just way too easy for us secure, self-righteous, “holier-than-thou” types to pile on. Without a doubt there’re lots of reasons to jump all over the superstars. Both have acted badly. Both have hurt other people. Both have given terrible examples for their fans, especially the youngsters. And both will have always these sorry incidents recounted in their biographies and eventually their obituaries.

But the real important lesson, I think, is that the consequences of bad behavior that Tiger and Ben have experienced apply to you and me too. You don’t have to be a celebrity – a famous jock, a politician, an actor or actress – to experience the consequences of sin.

A married person who engages in adulterous behavior; a corporate executive who breaks the rules, embezzles and cheats; a shopper who steals from a favorite store; a young guy who gets behind the wheel after a night of drinking; a teenager getting wasted with friends at a beer party; a schoolgirl surfing the seedy side of the internet; all these and others run the risk of hurting themselves and others, getting in trouble, and destroying their future.

In short, we inevitably pay a price for our bad behavior, for our sins, certainly in the final judgment, but sometimes in this life too. St. Paul wrote, that “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6:23) You don’t have to be Tiger Woods or Ben Roethlisberger to know how true that statement is.