Category Archives: Sports Heroes

Arnold Palmer: A Hero of the People

Arnold PalmerBy Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

In the world of sports, seldom do world-class athletes make the same heroic efforts to connect with their fans as they do to excel in their sport.  Most athletes, especially the elite ones, go about their business on the playing field and then retreat to their personal lives while giving minimal attention to the fans who pay their hefty salaries.

Arnold Palmer is a refreshing exception to this general rule.  There is no disputing his remarkable talent.  Between 1955 and 1973, he won 62 tournaments on the PGA tour, ranking him 5th among all the golfers who have ever played the game.  He also won 7 major championships, again placing him among the best all-time.

But these cold statistics do not begin to tell the story of Palmer's heroism.  Fans who came to see him golf were treated to a memorable and appealing image.  Palmer was a handsome man with a boyish smile and a friendly twinkle in his eyes.  With ease and grace, he connected with his large legion of fans, called Arnie's Army, who eagerly traced Palmer's every move around the golf course.  To them, Arnie was known as The King.  Palmer initiated conversations with members of his adoring crowd, always looking them in the eyes when addressing them.  Any fan who met him walked away believing he or she was the most important person Palmer had ever met.

The image of Palmer as "every man" was enhanced by his style of playing golf.  Most professional golfers play a conservative brand of golf designed to avoid mistakes.  Arnold PalmerPalmer eschewed this strategy.  He attacked the golf course, attempting shots that only weekend golfers with nothing to lose would dare to try.  Even his powerful swing was unorthodox; it had an odd hitch in the follow-through that smacked of reckless abandon.  He marched after every shot with a bold, brazen gait that exuded confidence.

Palmer was legendary for honoring every request to sign autographs that came his way.  When younger golfers, such as Curtis Strange, would complain about having to spend so much time signing autographs, Palmer would politely remind them of their responsibility to the people who made them rich and famous.  During his rookie year in 1997, Tiger Woods expressed his frustrations to Palmer about his newfound fame.  “I can’t be a normal 21-year-old,” said Tiger. “I have to sign autographs all the time, talk to the media after I play, do photo shoots for my sponsors. It just never ends.” Palmer replied to Tiger, “You’re right, Tiger, you aren’t a normal 21-year-old. Normal 21-year-olds don’t have $50 million in the bank. If you want to be normal, give the money back.”

Our images of heroes have at least three different components:  Visual, dispositional, and behavioral.   Visually, with his good looks and powerful build, Palmer fit the mold of a hero perfectly.  Dispositionally, his natural charm and warmth drew people to him like a magnet.  He was electric and charismatic both on and off the golf course, yet he remained a caring and humble man. No one spent more time with fans or connected with them emotionally better than Palmer could.  Behaviorally, Palmer fit our image of a hero to a tee (pun intended).  Palmer was a true gentleman in his conduct, a man who exhibited supreme talent at his job yet displayed a humility and respect for all people.

Below is a video tribute to the great Arnold Palmer.

Willie Mays’ Catch: The Iconic Image of a Hero

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

— Scott Allison and George Goethals

Tiger Woods: A Hero Ready For Redemption

Tiger WoodsBy Scott Allison and George Goethals

No human being has ever been better groomed to be a sports hero — and to remain one — than Eldrick Tont Woods, better known as Tiger Woods. Tiger’s dad, Earl Woods, went to great lengths to prepare his son for greatness. If Earl could have given his son a golf club in the womb, he would have. Tiger was playing by age two, competing against Bob Hope on TV at age three, and winning golf tournaments at age eight.

Although Tiger was prepared to achieve greatness on the golf course, he was far less prepared to live life under the media microscope. Tiger has always fiercely guarded his privacy and has shown a heightened sensitivity to criticism from both the media and his fellow golf competitors on the PGA Tour. He has a thin skin and a fragility about him that belies his formidability as a golfer. No wonder, then, that the exposure of his marital infidelities, and the media circus that followed, absolutely devastated him. Tiger clearly hit a personal rock-bottom.

When Tiger had his car accident on Thanksgiving night, he experienced a "trigger event" — a traumatic period in a person's life when he must choose a dramatic new life direction, or continue down his road of ruin. Trigger events are typically disastrous occurrences that cause us to take stock about what is fundamentally important to us. These events bring our values into sharp relief, lead us to change the way we live, and motivate us to become honest with ourselves about what really matters. Tiger Woods' trigger event caused him to realize that he had reached a dangerous bottoming of his life.

For Tiger, amidst all the messiness of this past winter, there is a silver lining. Yes, he and his family have experienced a lot of pain, and there is no doubt much healing to be done. But the good news is that Tiger has shown a self-awareness of his personal weaknesses. He acknowledged his need to work on becoming a better person, and he is doing something about it. We believe he can use this low point in his life to reach even greater heights as a hero.

How is this possible? It's simple: People love redemption. And it turns out that heroes can redeem themselves in different ways: (1) they can become a morally better person; (2) they can achieve new levels of competence; or (3) they can do both. Tiger can follow Kobe Bryant's lead and redeem himself by dominating his sport again. But Tiger can go beyond the Kobe blueprint for redemption by softening his personality and proving himself a morally changed man. If he can do these things, the public will embrace him as never before. A Tiger Woods who is a humbled and changed man off the golf course, and still dominant on the golf course, will be placed on a much higher heroic pedestal than he was previously.

As painful as the winter of 2009-2010 has been for Tiger, he can use his adversity as grist for the redemptive mill. People have always respected Tiger. His trigger event may be just what he needed to become a humbled, healthier person that the world loves as well as respects. No golfer has ever shown more grit and determination on the golf course than Tiger Woods. If he can now show these same qualities off the course, he can propel himself to an entirely new level of heroism.

We're rooting for him. After all, we love heroes as much as anyone else.