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Nearly every day brings a new headline about a public figure who has fallen from society’s good graces.

It’s not easy to come back from rock bottom, but it can happen.

When Tiger Woods won the PGA Tour Championship last month, the world witnessed a star who was able to fight his way back to the top after a series of personal crises and debilitating injuries.

This is the kind of redemption explored in Big Idols, Big Falls, a First-Year Studies 129 course taught by Steven Waller, professor and associate head of the Departmentof Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies.

The class takes a look at public figures whose reputations have been tarnished, such as athletes, entertainers, and politicians, and examines what it means for them to be forgiven and redeemed.

Waller has been teaching the course since 2010, and he believes that its message continues to be relevant.

Waller said celebrity culture creates an environment where people are put under a microscope and every move they make is analyzed.

“We’re very quick to, in many ways, act as voyeurs who watch people’s lives, and we live vicariously through other people’s lives—until they have this great tumble from grace and they hit rock bottom. Then everybody has an opinion,” he said. “This class is a lesson on how to humanize people who are in the public spotlight.”

The course finishes with students presenting reports about the rise and fall of chosen celebrities. Some of this year’s selections are Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, and Steve Harvey.

Waller is also interested in the moral and ethical implications of raising regular people to such high social ranks.

“I went to divinity school,” he said. “Along my journey, I began to think about things like ‘What does it really mean to give grace towards someone?’ ‘What does redemption mean after you’ve had a hellacious fall?’ and ‘Do people really deserve second chances?’”

First-Year Studies provides a variety of programs that help students transition—personally, socially, and academically—to life at UT. FYS 129 seminars are small 1-credit discussion-based courses on a variety of engaging topics that allow students to meet faculty members who share their interests and develop relationships that can be sustained throughout their college careers. More information about the program and the available courses can be found on the First-Year Studies website.


Amy Blakely (974-5034,