When it comes to professional athletes, there is considerable debate about whether they are role models or not. Some athletes explicitly deny this while others embrace being role models. In general, of course, they are happy to profit from their fame and to use their influence as role models to sell various products.
The Tiger Woods “episode” has once again raised questions about this issue. As everyone knows, he was involved in a crash and there are rumors flying that he has been having an affair. There is also speculation that his crash might have been the result of a conflict between he and his wife. Obviously, there are people devoted to raking up muck and even if the speculations are false, Woods is taking a rather severe PR hit over this incident.
On one hand a case can be made that he can be regarded as failing in his duties as a role model. After all, he has carefully crafted a public image with the aid of his corporate sponsors. This image is used to sell products and services and it rests on him maintaining this image of excellence in sports and as a person. Since he is well paid for this image, he has let down those who pay him, thus failing in his duty to them. Of course, if he was just involved in a random crash and had handled it better, then the damage would have been minor (or non-existent). However, the way the situation is being handled is allowing the suspicions to continue and even grow. Of course, this might be something beyond his control and hence it might be best to not hold him accountable for the rumor firestorm.
His fans also look up to him and admire him. While this is mostly for his skill, it is also for his carefully crafted image as a decent, like able person. As such, this incident can be seen as harming his fans and as a failure in his duty to them. After all, he benefited greatly from his positive public image and if he was willing to reap the rewards, then he must also be willing to reap the negative effects as well.
On the other hand, he can be regarded as not failing in his duties. One way to argue this is that he does not actually have any duty (beyond the basic moral duty we all have) to act in an exemplary way. After all, his job is to hit golf balls and sell products. While damage to his personal reputation might impact his image, he can still play golf (once he recovers from his injuries). As long as he continues to play well, he can still count on corporate support and commercial opportunities. Pf course, he might need to be re-branded.
Another way to argue this is that his personal life should be kept distinct from his professional life. After all, as long as his actions to not violate the rules of the sport or his commercial contracts, then what he does would not be a professional failing. As such, the fans can expect him to play golf by the rules but cannot expect him to be a role model.
A final point is that while it is tempting to hold professional athletes to high standards, the fact is that they are just people who play sports. As such, they should not be held to any higher expectations than anyone else and what they do should be kept in proper perspective.