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It's been a long time since the name Tiger Woods has been associated with good news for anyone other than the guys who come up with front pages for the New York Post, but that changed Wednesday when he was named Athlete of the Decade by the Associated Press. Woods got 56 of 142 votes for the honor, with more than half of the ballots sent by AP editors sent in after the entire world stopped paying attention to anything but his sex life late in November.
Woods's stunningly quick fall from grace perfectly captured so many other defining trends of the last 10 years that it is hard to imagine how you could come up with an argument for anyone else. Breakthroughs in communication like blogs and Twitter have made Woods the subject of a million public conversations in a million different places, and the growth of celebrity coverage through TMZ and Us Magazine ensures that even the less tech-savvy are getting healthy doses of Tiger and his many ladies.
In every way, this story encapsulates this decade. There's the seaminess of reality TV -- in the way that the women of Woods's past keep rushing forward for their 15 minutes of fame -- and the drop in education standards -- illustrated by the rise of "transgressions meaning" in Google searches following his statement.
If accomplishment in sports were the the thing that matters most, other athletes might have fared better than Woods. Lance Armstrong won six Tour De France titles in the last 10 years and raised millions of dollars to battle cancer. Roger Federer spent the last 10 years dominating tennis and gaining acclaim as the greatest player ever to don whites. Tom Brady, Albert Pujols, Usain Bolt and Floyd Mayweather, among many others, reached athletic heights that would make them worthy choices if only on-field or positive contributions mattered.
None of those guys has ever captured the full attention of the American populace the way that Woods has over the last three weeks, however. More than that, none of them have ever carried a billion-dollar business on their back the way that Woods has carried golf over the last decade. Without Tiger, the sport will have to face difficult questions about how they can sustain their ratings, sponsors and public interest because he was the primary driver for all of them. His fall will ripple throughout his sport in a meaningful way, yet another indication of the magnitude of the Woods story.
According to AP, the vote "was more about 10 years of performance than nearly three weeks of salacious headlines." That's a nice idea, but it was those three weeks of headlines that really separated Woods from every other athlete who reached professional heights in the last 10 years.