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Wednesday, June 8,2016

Fathers and Sons

By Mark Tudino  

I was asked by a friend recently where do the story ideas come from for columns. I replied that sometimes the column writes itself, and sometimes the ideas come from just simple observations of life. In this case it’s more the latter than the former; trite but true.

I thought about this after reading Wright Thompson’s superb piece on Tiger Woods for ESPN, the magazine (not to plug another publication but, hey, good work is good work). What struck me about the article was how much Tiger’s life changed – or fell apart depending on your point of view- after his father, Earl, passed away in May 2006. You see, to that point, Tiger’s life had been carefully orchestrated with the maestro being his dad. He choreographed and planned his son’s career.

Everything - from the time Tiger first hit the national stage at age two, to the day his dad passed away - everything was a byproduct of Earl Wood’s vision, passion and determination. Don’t get me wrong – it was still Tiger hitting those shots, making those like the sporting predator he was who putts and staring down every competitor made it happen but that was Earl’s creation; Tiger was the culmination of that dream.

But more than being a teacher, protector and mentor, Earl was Tiger’s human guardrail, even during the times when they weren’t on speaking terms, which apparently could go on for months. It was as if the man/child was playing not just for the crowds, or himself, but also for his dad’s validation and approval. You see, a black kid from Cypress, California could rise to become a megastar in a sport largely dominated by whites at the time; but when Earl died, Tiger spun out of control, seemingly lost with no sense of purpose and, more importantly, no one to reign him in when everything began to fall apart.

It’s not an isolated tale. Mike Tyson, himself a lost and violent soul before the late boxing trainer Cus D’Amato stepped in to literally and figuratively take him from the streets to the heavyweight title in after Cus,and later confidant Jimmy Jacobs, six years, also veered violently off course passed away. You know the rest of the sordid story; it’s only now that the former champ has begun to rebuild his life. Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle and Aaron Hernandez also underwent significant lifealtering changes after their fathers died (though in Hernandez’s case, it appears something else may have been at work). The reverse can also be true - that is the presence of fathers without whom it’s hard to imagine their offspring being as successful. Jack Nicklaus, Wayne Gretzky, Venus and Serena Williams are just a few who come to mind, but the list is long.

So, as we celebrate Father’s Day this year, remember the athletes who’ve been guided by the main man in their lives, just like it’s been for many of you with your dad (and that includes Gene Tudino as well).

Happy Father’s Day!


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