A New Yorker's Opinion: Tiger Woods' Win Contrasts with Kennedy Honors for Diamond, Streep, Rollins, Cook and Ma

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on December 05 2011 2:40 PM

Brooklyn, New York-born Neil Diamond named his song, Sweet Caroline, after Caroline Kennedy, he told reporters on Sunday during the annual Kennedy Center Gala, according to a CBC report.

The gala is a memorial to her father that honors artists. This year, it bestowed its recognition on Diamond, actress Meryl Streep, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, singer Barbara Cook and saxophonist Sonny Rollins. These are great artists all, who have contributed so much to our culture and the arts. People of whom all Americans, regardless of race, creed, religion or opinion, can be proud to call fellow citizens

It's also a weekend that saw the comeback victory of Tiger Woods, the personally troubled golf great, who finally won a tournament after a two-plus-year drought, at the Chevron Challenge and Sherman Oaks, held  Sunday in Los Angeles.

Artists and athletes are the original celebrities, long before it was possible to be famous for nothing, like the fading celebutante Paris Hilton, or the rising catastrophe Kim Kardashian, just to name two.

It's intriguing to consider how we hold up sports athletes, in general, as role-models for our young. Yet artists, for the most part, are considered, typically, denizens of the demi-monde, social misfits who live only at the outer fringes of polite society.

Yet the winners of the Kennedy honors have lived lives, for the most part, as beyond reproach as anyone's. On the other hand, Woods, not to pick on a man with a full golf-bag on inner demons, is but one of a long list of present superstar athletes, who have to a man (and it seems it is always men) to be, at the least, delinquents, and, at the most, felonious criminals. I won't bother to name them all but off the top of my head they range from compulsive gambler Pete Rose, which is going back a ways, to dog-fighting impresario, Michael Vick.

Meryl Streep, meanwhile, lives a quiet life in Connecticut with her family. She married her husband in 1978 and has four children with him. What a modest and exemplary life.

Neil Diamond, who married his high-school sweetheart, has been married twice and just got engaged in Sept. 2011. A longer, winding road than for Streep, perhaps, but certainly not a groupie-grouping, hotel-room trashing life by any means.

Barbara Cook has had an illustrious career in theater and as a singer. She struggled with drink and depression in the 1970s, but quit drinking in 1977. She has overcome, and managed it without any particularly scandalous behavior.

Yo-Yo Ma married in 1977, to Jill Hornor, a German professor, and has two children. Ok, some people might think marrying an academic is pretty scandalous, but I am willing to forgive him for that.

So why is it that we don't pick artists as models for our youth? Their noble traditions stretch from the cave paintings of Lascaux, through the theater of the ancient Greeks, to today. And through their efforts the great truths of the human condition have been exemplified and taught to each proceeding generation. And the culture that separates us from savagery has been created.

And why is it that athletes, who certainly often have nobility about them, are so often, these days, are found so lacking in judgment, maturity, behavior and demeanor?

Perhaps it is because artists, who struggle and study as hard as any athlete, rarely have the good-, or ill-fortune to be coddled when young, cut breaks for bad grades and bad behavior, showered with wealth and worship, while still too young to know any better. By contrast, these corrupting forces surrounding star athletes are well known to anyone who follows the game, whichever one it might be.

And certainly today's disgusting headlines of horribly behaving coaching staffs at a number of prestigious schools suggests that on top of that there are even instances of a sort of cult-like secret subculture to which young athletes are sometimes subjected, and which we can only hope will prove to be the exception and not the rule.

Maybe it's time for society at large, and parents, in particular, and yes, folks like me--journalists and chroniclers of the passing parade--to rethink who we would put up on a pedestal for our youth and our community to admire.

There is, also, another side to this, the survival and rehabilitation not just of our culture, but of those young athletes whose personal corruption finally catches up with them.

In particular, they can take heart from the story and outcome of one of the artists honored at the Kennedy gala. Sonny Rollins, the legendary saxophonist--who played with everyone from Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, to the Rolling Stones--had a troubled early life. He was convicted of armed robbery, at age 30,  in 1950, and then again for violating his parole in 1952 for heroin use. He did time in prison, then was one of the patients who took part in early methadone treatment therapy to free him from the pernicious drug. The treatment was successful and Rollins went on to study yoga and various philosophies--and to lead a productive, creative and exemplary life.

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