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The Two-Way Street: Star Athletes And Their Private Lives

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The public deserves to see star athletes as they really are, and not just as they present themselves to the media.

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Throughout our lives, we try to understand ourselves as human beings. We constantly ask ourselves, what can I achieve? What qualities do I possess? What do others think of me? Who am I?

Nike knows, and they gave us our answer:

You are Tiger Woods. Not just you, but your children are Tiger Woods as well. Tiger Woods the competitor, the champion. Before, we all thought young Eldrick Woods was simply a good-looking, clean-cut golfer with tremendous ability and an unquenchable thirst for victory.

And then we met the person. Kind of. We didn't so much meet Tiger Woods as much as we met, and fell in love with, a vague but shiny image of him. We learned to love Tiger Woods the exceptional human being - the family man of utmost virtue, who loved his wife and children dearly when he wasn't busy doing charity work.

Oops.

Actually, we never really met Tiger Woods. We met an idealization of Tiger. This idealization was sold to us on a nightly basis so that we knew how great and noble Tiger was at sports and at life. It was an image we were encouraged to love, and love it we did. But it wasn't the real Tiger.

And it wasn't just Tiger. It was Brett Favre, the good ol' boy who overcame adversity and stood by his family through the toughest times all while carrying charities on his back and playing with endless heart and courage.

It was Kobe Bryant, the youth phenom who overcame adversity and stood by his family through the toughest times all while carrying charities on his back and playing with endless heart and courage.

It was David Beckham, who proved that heroism was not merely an American institution, as England's favorite son overcame adversity and stood by his family through the toughest times all while carrying charities on his back and playing with endless heart and courage.

Beginning to get the picture?

In Pittsburgh, it's Sidney Crosby and Ben Roethlisberger. The way each athlete has been marketed to the public is similar, though the two men are strikingly different when stacked up individually.

Sidney Crosby was destined for greatness since the age of 14, anointed by Wayne Gretzky as "The Next One." Since coming to Pittsburgh, Crosby has lived up to and surpassed even the most optimistic expectations of him, captaining a once-doomed franchise to the Stanley Cup and a perennial spot amongst the NHL's elite. But don't forget Sidney Crosby the humanitarian or the kid who just loves to play hockey -- he's in there too.

And then you have Ben Roethlisberger. "Big Ben" was considered the next one as well, but for completely different reasons. On his high school football team, Roethlisberger backed up the coach's son until his senior year, perennially the next in line. When he finally received his opportunity, Roethlisberger wowed audiences and was given a shot by the Miami University of Ohio Redhawks to play as their starting quarterback. Sure, Roethlisberger was raw, but the talent was there. At Miami, he shined, and, as a junior, he declared for the NFL Draft and was quickly snapped up by the Steelers in the first round.

In Pittsburgh, Ben exceeded high expectations, playing impressively as a rookie before winning two Super Bowls and maturing into one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. Much like Crosby, there was also Roethlisberger the humanitarian, the gunslinger who plays to win the game.

These are our role models. They are sculpted to appeal to those primal emotions we bring to sports as fans and as people. We don't want to root for the egotistical womanizer or the guy with the anger-management problem. We want to root for the good guy, the family man. These are our modern day Robin Hoods -- they are our heroes, more myth than fact.

The impeccable moral fibers of these athletes are sold to us daily. Sometimes it's during a commercial, sometimes during the news, maybe in a newspaper or a magazine, but the fact remains that the image is ever-present.

Do we have any time to cut through the fluff and get to the point? We better, and if not, we're at the point where time must be made.

Journalists (including writers, bloggers and reporters of all types) should exist not to sell a product (a league or an athlete) or make an audience feel good, but to provide an honest, accurate picture of important people, places and things. If the story has a feel-good ending, great. But let us make sure the happy story is well earned, not just well written.

In light of recent events, every detail of Tiger Woods' personal life is fair game; the relevance of the material can be left for the reader to decide. Important people in positions of trust sold us an incredibly inaccurate portrayal of Woods. It is only fair to counter the misrepresentations with new facts as they emerge. If Tiger didn't want his personal life to become public, he and his handlers should have done a better job keeping it private.

The same is true of Roethlisberger. Though he chose what aspects of his personal life to provide us with, his lack of discretion in the public eye brought his off-field life to the forefront. Much like Tiger, now that the bad has come to light, it's vitally important to paint an accurate picture of the man, the events and every necessary detail surrounding them. We should aim not for character assassination, but for character accuracy.

For Crosby, perhaps there is a story there. Perhaps there isn't. From the admittedly little I know of him on a personal level, it could well be the latter. But Crosby has had handlers since his preteen years, and he and they have done a tremendous job of presenting Crosby as a grounded individual.

A few Google searches turn up plenty of pictures of some of the less famous Penguins out and about, carousing with women, and acting their age. There's no reason they shouldn't. But with Crosby, you don't get that. He manages to stay below the public radar off of the ice, and thus, his public life, even as an elite athlete, remains similarly shrouded.

Because of this, there is no reason for us to lose our grandiose idea of who Crosby is. In fact, we have even more reason to celebrate it. But for Woods, Roethlisberger, and others of their ilk, the more we learned, the less there was to celebrate.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.