How much do you want to know about the people who play the sports you follow?
As Patrick Reed sank his winning putt yesterday at the 2018 Masters, the friend at whose house I watched Sunday’s final round threw the TV remote into his nearby couch. He could not be more displeased with the tournament’s end, specifically Reed’s victory ahead of Rickie Fowler or Jordan Spieth.
An accomplished golfer in his own right, my friend had no prior knowledge of Reed’s rumored dark past or familial issues prior to me giving him a debrief that afternoon. Instead, he simply doesn’t like Reed as a golfer… and admittedly lost a wager he would have won had the results been different.
Stated another way, my friend’s judgement of Reed was based on how he performs on the course, and not from his personal backstory.
In the hours that followed Sunday, numerous articles and blog posts were published chasing the storyline of Reed’s life off the course. By now you’ve probably read the main points:
- Reed had a colorful past as a collegiate player and student, including accusations of cheating during a tournament and stealing from his team mates
- Reports that Reed and his parents haven’t spoken in more than six years
- Married at 22 to his wife Justine, Reed endured a healthy amount of disagreement from his parents for marrying too young
- Reed’s parents, Bill and Jeannette, being asked to leave a recent US Open at the behest of Justine
- Reed’s younger sister, Hannah, offering her side of the family’s relationship in a Facebook post that has since been deleted
And so on, and so on…
Social media response to the articles have been mixed. Most are wondering what juicy details have yet to be uncovered of a “dark family past” for golf’s newest major champion. Others offer ridicule to the journalists for “being nosy” and digging into something to which they have no right.
Meanwhile, Patrick Reed and his Team carry on, just as they always have, offering no insight or opinions on anything. “I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments,” Reed replied when asked if his victory was bittersweet not having the chance to share his Masters win with his immediate family.
Shouldn’t that be all that we expect from him? Why can’t that be enough?
Patrick Reed was awarded the Green Jacket just in time for millions of fans to completely disrobe him.
Therein lies one of sport fandom’s biggest ironies: we want to cheer for people who can do the things we cannot, but want to humanize them to the point of feeling above them in some way.
It’s one thing to ridicule a player for having a temper on the course, or saying something ridiculous in an interview, or simply playing with a style we find annoying. It’s something entirely different when we feel the need to state that we’re a better husband, son, father, or person than someone on television.
We sports fans are a fickle lot. We allow our sports stars as much of a leash as we deem comfortable before reeling them back in when they rise too high. Similarly, we refuse to pull up on the leash when they fall too low, choosing instead to watch them suffer and — at times — even let go.
There’s no doubt Patrick Reed’s family background and bumpy past warrant some level of attention from someone. Wishing the best for a public figure would be a huge shift for our society, and one that is long overdue. And, yes, arguing that we must separate the man from the athlete is both naive and inappropriate to a degree. You can’t have one without the other.
But contrary to what we want to believe, there is a grey area in all facets of life. Sports fandom is not black and white, especially with something as convoluted as golf. Careers can change in the span of a single shot, as too can a person.
It might just take them longer.