Morality trumps all

  • April 4, 2013

The sports conglomerate that clothes and equips the world’s No. 1 golfer would have us believe that “winning takes care of everything.” That’s the slogan Nike is trumpeting in an ad campaign with Tiger Woods, the golfing impresario who lost his moral compass and his putting stroke three years ago. But Woods is back on top now and that has rejuvenated a marketing bonanza for a sponsor intent on convincing consumers that winning erases his past failings.

In a materialistic society, that message already resonates beyond golf and sports. The mantra is often popular in politics and business and even in our homes and schools. It’s a harmful message that society should resist.

Woods’ sponsor claims the slogan relates solely to golf and not to the many and well-publicized infidelities that ended his marriage. But that explanation is hard to buy. Corporate marketers routinely use celebrity and hero worship to advance a consumer culture that is frequently at odds with traditional moral values. It’s common in sports, but also across the spectrum of arts, entertainment, business and politics.

The implied message of the Woods’ campaign is that his recent athletic triumphs make his past moral failings irrelevant Or, worse, forgives them all together. The ad suggests that, despite just about anything else, a winner deserves all of the fame and adoration that comes with it.

Sport can be virtuous when training and competition build moral character. It can be honourable when discipline combines with integrity to reinforce spiritual and human values. There is nothing wrong with winning when it flows naturally from fair competition. But when winning becomes an obsession, or a panacea that “takes care of everything,” the innate virtue of sport wilts like a rose shut out from the light. Nike hardly invented this vainglory mentality. It has become all too common across a media-driven consumer culture that often acts like the word “winner” is a synonym for hero. The attitude is prevalent in business and politics, for example, where shortcuts are taken, ethics compromised and laws sometimes broken to boost a stock price or gain a few points in the polls.

Like everyone, Woods can earn forgiveness, but that is quite separate from winning. When winning becomes a compulsion and the craving to succeed cripples honour, then arrogance, narcissism and dishonesty often flourish. That’s the danger in the “winning-takes-care-of-everything” message. It reinforces a cultural trend towards selfishness and pride. Winning doesn’t take care of everything. Pursued recklessly in sport and in life, winning can cause serious spiritual and moral failings and, ultimately, unhappiness.

What society needs is a campaign with positive slogans. Something like “Integrity takes care of everything” or “Humility takes care of everything.” Those would be slogans worth supporting.

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