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Danica, Tiger Woods and sex in sports

- The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.
Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009

Ah, the power of the three-letter word in sports.

No, not NFL, NBA or BCS. Or even AT&T or GMC, for that matter.

S-E-X.

In the last couple of weeks, sex ruled not only the sports headlines, but the tabloid ones as well, with the sordid saga of Tiger Woods. On Tuesday, sex in sports showed its power in a completely different manner. Danica Patrick strutted out in her 6-inch stiletto heels, skin-tight black pants and black leather jacket to match her jet-black hair, for the grand announcement of her foray into NASCAR.

Before this animalistic analysis shifts into second gear, it must be made perfectly clear that these are two totally different areas of the sex spectrum. Patrick's case is all about sex appeal, while Tiger's is about the act itself and the carnage salacious infidelity can create.

The compelling aspect of this comparison is the dichotomy of the impact of sex. It can lift an average, undeserving competitor into a completely higher stratosphere and it can batter one of the most accomplished athletes of all time into the depths.

First, Patrick has done nothing wrong. She's an attractive woman, a decent driver and is only looking to take advantage of the career opportunities that come her way.

She's just working with what her mama gave her.

But let's not confuse the reason why she's getting the equivalent of a promotion in motorsports from IndyCar to NASCAR. It's not her performance behind the wheel; it's in front of the camera.

In five full seasons driving on the IndyCar circuit, Patrick won just one race in 81 attempts. That 2008 win in Japan was the first by a woman driver and she has some other nice honors, such as Rookie of the Year in 2005 and finishing third at the Indianapolis 500 earlier this year.

Now, she will get to continue a full IRL schedule with one of the top teams, Andretti Autosport, and pick her spots on NASCAR's Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports, which is owned by racing kingpins Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Patrick has never shown she can handle (excuse the pun) the bump and grind of stock car racing. Guaranteed, there are drivers throughout this country toiling at local tracks such as our own I-25 Speedway, or on the third-tier Craftsman Truck Series, who are more deserving of a shot.

But those grease monkeys just wouldn't look nearly as good on the cover of Maxim magazine or starring in sexually tinged commercials for GoDaddy.com, the lead sponsor of Patrick's No. 7 stock car.

Sex appeal is driving the continued rise of Patrick. It's powerful enough to do that for someone who looks good but hasn't exactly earned her way.

Conversely, sex is powerful enough to turn a Tiger into a cheetah, as the popular joke goes.

Woods has played his way to the top of sport, becoming the richest athlete in the world by dominating a finicky game like golf in a way that's never been done before. His 14 major championships at age 33 solidify his greatness.

But sex can topple a titan, even one who has earned every step of success. Woods' image will never be the same, and he obviously only has himself to blame.

One thing has been proven again by both cases: Sex does, indeed, sell, whether it's by the marketing machine of NASCAR or to the insatiable appetite of society for the dirty details of celebrities' personal lives.

To see more of The Pueblo Chieftain, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to www.chieftain.com .

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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