Unchecked power, money, and fame can inspire bad behaviors and turn an honest person into a liar and a hypocrite. But the rich and famous aren’t the only ones vulnerable to temptation.
Remember that early Tiger Woods commercial for Nike that featured a multiracial gallery of kids declaring “I am Tiger Woods”? That famous ad heralded both the coming of a once-in-a-lifetime athlete and the inspiration he would become to millions of people. In light of recent events, that commercial doesn’t sound as inspiring anymore. But I think it still packs a lot of truth — just in a sadly different way.
We are Tiger Woods. Let me explain.
Woods’ tragic fall is compelling both because his private life is none of our business and because it is our business — at least that’s what Nike and Buick and Gillette had been telling us over the past decade.
Back in the day, pro athletes were idolized for their dominance on the field of play. Touchdowns, homeruns, and championship trophies were the primary capital of success. Things began to change, however, when marketing and corporate sponsorships took on a more prominent role in sports. When a company like McDonald’s or Coca-Cola wanted to use an athlete to pitch its products, it played up his human side, going for humor or sentimentality. Then we got to know the sports star not only as a dominant athlete but as a fun-loving, regular Joe as well. Remember Coke’s famous Mean Joe Greene ads or Joe DiMaggio selling coffeemakers?
The 1990s gave way to the marketing of the professional bad boy in sports — from Mike Tyson to Dennis Rodman. Companies, especially those directly linked to sports like Nike and Gatorade, began promoting the edgier, aggressive side of an athlete’s image to attract the eyeballs of youth and young adults. Remember, it was a 1993 Nike commercial that promoted Sir Charles Barkley’s controversial “I Am Not a Role Model” message. In some ways, this was an important message to deliver. But no one really accepted it. If you’re a successful sports star who sells shoes and soft drinks on the side, then kids are going to look up to you.
There was a time when we were able to intelligently distinguish between a sports star’s public persona and his private life, and we respected the separation. But with multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, shameless self-promotion, and the growing power of the media comes a magnification of every detail in the lives of those who make their living as public figures. Remember the days when TV stations actually went off the air at 2 a.m.? They played the national anthem and switched to white noise until 6 a.m. Those days are long gone. Twenty-four hour cable TV and Internet news sites now battle for our attention by filling every waking hour with the personal and scandalous that they think we want to hear.
Power and fame allows one to live in a bubble and the trade-off is you can choose who inhabits it with you. Typically the media is only invited when the person has something to sell or promote. But this same media deploys its spies (paparazzi) who sniff out and beam the filthy laundry of celebrities around the world. But inside this bubble, a celebrities’ taste rules. The absence of discerning voices can encourage unhealthy choices that incubate and blossom into addictions.
I teach at a private Christian school as a Bible instructor. I consistently highlight the logical outworking of unrepentant adultery in families and communities: chaos and tragedy.
King David’s life is a cautionary tale in this matter. David’s unchecked lust and moral weakness led to adultery and ultimately murder. He had multiple wives and children. David the fierce warrior and brilliant military strategist who could route whole armies did not seem too interested in holding his own sons accountable for their treachery. This led to the death of Amnon and Absalom and the disgrace of Adonijah. Where was David’s discerning voice as a father and as king?
It is easy to be self-controlled and disciplined in areas that come naturally to us. But what about those private, unseen areas of our lives? We can end up living a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” existence. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen what a superstar’s double life can do to a family.
Anytime Old Testament Israel lived a contradictory life, they moved further and further away from God. When God allows sin to follow its course in our lives because we are willfully disobedient and desire complete autonomy, addictions can result. A good antidote for this is something the Book of Proverbs highlights consistently: discipline, humility, and discernment.
My question here is this: Who can stop a powerful person who lacks discipline, humility, and discernment in the most important areas of his life?
The spouse? She does not travel with him most of the time.
The children? That’s asking too much of them.
The father? Is he even around?
The mother? That’s her little boy who can do no wrong!
The publicist? He’s paid to tell his client what he wants to hear.
The teammates? A “Don’t Snitch” policy usually prevails in these relationships because everyone has something to hide.
The sponsors? Don’t ask, don’t tell.
The groupies and hangers-on? They’re only there as long as he’s doing well and taking them along for the ride.
In the end, when unhealthy choices are exposed and we are caught in a bright negative spotlight, we wish someone had held us accountable earlier. See, you can live an undisciplined life even without fame and power. Celebrities just experience the worse of it because of their status in society.
A lack of accountability on a regular basis breeds a God complex. You can see this in some of the actions of Cain, Saul, David, Solomon, Samson, Nebuchadnezzar, and certain Jewish and Roman leaders in the New Testament.
I remember reading about Billy Graham’s unusual routine when he traveled around the world for his crusades. The legendary evangelist traveled with a team of people and developed a strict system of checks and balances. His team would check his hotel room before he entered for inappropriate magazines and unscrupulous people. This was meant to protect him from temptation and ensure his continued credibility as a communicator of the Good News.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t make ourselves accountable to the people around us who are most likely to tell us the truth about ourselves. We like to be our own god. I dreamed of this kind of idol worship as a kid, when I imagined myself scoring touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles. And, in some ways, I still desire that kind of fame and notoriety. But I am thankful for the godly people in my life who counsel me and continually remind me of what is important: God is invested in my life and my response should be gratefulness, humility, and obedience. Many celebrities and people in high places would do well to learn this, too.