A little dishing on sports

Bill Simmons Needs to Hire a VP of Common Sense

I checked my calendar and confirmed that April Fools’ Day isn’t for a few weeks yet, so that means that Bill Simmons was probably serious in his article this week asserting that Tiger Woods faces a tougher road in his comeback to golf than Muhammad Ali faced in his comeback to boxing in 1970.

I don’t know that there is a need to refute Simmons’s arguments point by point, I mean Simmons of all people – originator of the VP of Common Sense – should probably realize that an argument that seems absurd when written or uttered out loud, is probably in fact ridiculous.  However, since Simmons framed his argument as being hole by hole, the front nine of a golf course – the irony of framing one’s argument in terms of “holes” is rich indeed — let’s have at it.  Simmons’s has devised arguments which are themselves full of holes.  (Thanks to my new online venture partner (details soon) and closest friend, Chi’ for pointing that out quite artfully.)

So let’s have a look at the case Mr. Simmons makes for the following proposition: “When Tiger Woods returns to golf, he will face a level of pressure that well surpasses anything any other transcendent athlete has faced in my lifetime.” Again, note that the obvious comparison Simmons is drawing is to Ali’s return from a 3 and ½ year suspension from boxing.

Hole 1:  Tiger hasn’t played golf competitively in a whole 4 months, whereas Ali spent 3 and ½ years not fighting really big, strong, fast guys who were trying to bash his brains in.  Of course, it’s really easy to simulate boxing conditions by making “your mama” jokes to the wrong people, so, yeah, I can see why the degree of difficulty would be much higher for Tiger here.

Hole 2:  This latest sabbatical is the second lengthy work stoppage for Tiger following knee surgery in 2008.  Simmons asked whether the guy who won 25 titles, including six majors is gone.  Hmmm, well, Tiger did not win a major in 2009, although he finished 2nd at the PGA and 6th in two others and won 6 other tournaments in his first year back from knee surgery, so I’m going to venture the guess that his prospects are fairly decent for a full comeback.

Hole 3: Tiger’s 34!!  Yikes!  Simmons then goes on to cite no fewer than 7 golfers who won majors after the age of 34, a number of whom had spectacular success into their 40s, and even Simmons admits that most of those golfers were less accomplished than Tiger by this age.

Simmons also posts a note in Hole 2, which probably should have been in Hole 3, pointing out that Ali came back and absorbed more and more punishment, leading to the permanent debilitation from which he now suffers.  But I’m sure it wasn’t too great an adjustment for him to go from a lightning fast 24 year old kid whose speed of hands and feet dazzled the entire boxing world and shielded him from taking a lot of blows to a 28 year old guy who was a stationary target and who had to dig deep and rely on an indomitable will to bolster a granite chin, astounding tolerance for pain and discomfort and peerless ring intelligence.  Why spend any time debating that?  Tiger’s 34!!  How can he even be expected to carry his clubs 18 holes?  Oh, wait.

Simmons then goes on to make some sound and some suspect arguments about the challenge of the media cycle, whether Tiger will be single-minded enough now that he has to work on saving his family and dealing with the fact that fans are right on top of golfers on the courses as opposed to the boxing ring, where fans are right on top of you but you don’t care because a really big man is standing 4 inches away attempting to murder you with his bare hands.

I want to skip ahead to Holes 8 and 9 where Simmons argues that Ali returned with greater support and less day to day pressure.  I found it difficult to comprehend and summarize these arguments, so I urge you to read them yourself.

I do want to direct your attention to this quote, though:

“Forty years later, many people (including me) wonder whether Tiger Woods might fold under the pressure of his comeback. It’s a fair concern. The pressures aren’t nearly as meaningful as the ones surrounding Ali — one of the most important, courageous and influential athletes ever — but they remain pressures nonetheless.”

That matters in evaluating the difficulty of the comeback, right?  It seems like basic common sense that part of the pressure of the comeback are the external circumstances swirling around outside.  So if Ali came back believing he was speaking for a community much larger than himself, he would be under more pressure than if he was doing it merely for himself, like, say, Tiger Woods is now, right?  Okay, I thought so.

And another thing, Simmons touches on the chaos outside the boxing ring – Vietnam, civil rights, the Nation of Islam — but he dismisses them as if they were irrelevant to Ali’s circumstances.  Let’s be clear: Tiger Woods faces nosy reporters, contemptuous women and paparazzi.  Those are the external obstacles to his comeback after 4 freaking months.

Ali was broke.  Ali was the face of a movement.  Ali had every reason to fear for his life at that moment in American history.  In fact, Simmons points to three particular groups of people who might have wanted to do Ali harm: white racists, the Nation of Islam, and the pro-war movement.  Here are some of the events of the years approaching Ali’s return to the ring:

June 1963 – Civil rights leader Medgar Evans is assassinated by white racists

September 1963 – 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama is bombed by white racists, killing 4 young black girls.  

November 1963 – President John F. Kennedy is assassinated.

June 1964 – Three civil rights workers are murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi by white racists.

February 1965 – Civil rights leader and former Nation of Islam member Malcolm X is assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam.

April 1968 – Civil rights leader and prominent anti-Vietnam protester Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated by a white racist.

June 1968 – Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated.

May 1970 – Four students killed, nine wounded when National Guard troops open fire on students on the Kent State University campus protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.  

It is against this backdrop that Muhammad Ali, prominent African-American man, anti-Vietnam War protester and Nation of Islam member in questionable standing, returned to the ring in October of 1970.  And, oh by the way, he was dead broke when he fought Quarry, with a wife and three daughters to support.

Any argument that Tiger Woods faces a level of pressure greater than Ali faced in 1970 is certifiably insane.  Can I get a ruling from the VP of Common Sense?


One Response to “Bill Simmons Needs to Hire a VP of Common Sense”

  1. […] decision to render his Decision on where to play this year a media circus? Really, can we get his VP of Common Sense out to California on the redeye, please?! ▶ No Responses /* 0) { jQuery('#comments').show('', change_location()); […]

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