“I am not a role model.” - Charles Barkely in a 1993 Nike commercial
The first contract I ever signed was an agreement with a Patriots running back named Dave Meggett. I was without an agent and negotiated the terms myself because I was around 11 or 12-years-old, rapidly approaching my teens, yet hardly of age to ink my name to a binding agreement of any authenticity. Good thing, because this particular deal only existed in my consciousness.
Meggett was a Pro-Bowler on the '96 Patriots squad that lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. I loved him. He could do it all: spell Curtis Martin on third down, catch the ball out of the backfield, and was particularly adept on special teams as a punt returner. Meggett, like many other New England players of that era, fled to New York to join Bill Parcells and the Jets in 1998. After retiring the following season, Meggett was arrested in Toronto, Canada, after authorities said he allegedly assaulted an escort worker after a three-way sexual encounter. Creepy stuff. Most everyone around me shook their heads and denounced Meggett.
It was then I decided that athletes and I had entered an unspoken treaty with one another. Call it the Bill Clinton Corollary of 1998. The parameters are simple: As far as public figures go, whether it be athletes, actors, musicians, or, to a lesser extent, politicians, I only care about their behavior as it pertains to me. These guys aren’t coming over for Sunday dinner. I’m not catching a movie with them. They aren’t dating my sister. We aren’t friends.
Sports and entertainment is a form of escapism, a chance to get away from real life happenings. In turn, the key figures’ relevancy starts and ends with different thoughts: Are you playing well? How was the latest album you put out? Were you good in the last movie I saw you in? I consciously choose to remember Meggett like I remember Clinton … fondly. As always, there are mitigating circumstances to this conundrum.
Tiger Woods, however, is not a mitigating circumstance.
After reclaiming his spot atop the throne as the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer, Nike came under fire for running an advertisement with a screaming headline alongside Tiger’s image: “Winning Takes Care of Everything.” The spot has obvious callbacks to Woods’ precipitous fall following the reveal of his ignominious marital affairs with multiple women, of all different walks of life, surfacing in November of 2009, and the subsequent divorce from his wife, Elin Nordegren.
The public referendum on Woods was exhausting. I cared, though, because in the invasive world of 2013, we care about these sorts of things. The interest quickly dissipated when Woods’ play on the course suffered, because he was no longer tangentially connected to any significance in the sports world beyond vague questions like whether or not he would become great once again. So, I stopped caring.
Nike ads say the things we all think. From an advertising standpoint, this feels vapid and counterintuitive. After all, the last place a vocation that leverages creativity to obtain originality looks toward is a consensus thought. But what Nike has been doing since 1993 is actually brilliant. The end result in sports is black and white.
Everything that happens in a game is exciting, but when the clock strikes zero and the final whistle blows, you either win or you lose. So sure, "Just Do It" is corny, but it’s also matter of fact. That Barkley ad at the top of the column is crappy, but also true. And Tiger Woods matters again because, when you’re an athlete, winning does, in fact, take care of everything.
Follow Metro Boston columnist Ryan Hadfield @Hadfield__