Saturday, February 20, 2010

All Things Tiger, No Things Golf

If you haven’t heard, Tiger Woods has finally spoken. For the first time in months, Tiger Woods has stepped in front of the cameras and publicly acknowledged the recent controversy in his life. And since I figured there would be very few people in the traditional media covering this story, I might as well give you my take. What would this world do without me?

First of all, I was very excited to hear Tiger speak for the first time since news of his scandalous love life and numerous affairs were made public. How excited? Well, I may have skipped class just to stay in my room and watch it. I’m not confirming that, but it’s a possibility. Why so excited? Because since Thanksgiving, when the world’s best golfer (and arguably the planet’s most recognizable athlete) mysteriously wrecked his car…in the middle of the night…in his own driveway…we have been subject to a monsoon of information about Tiger and his private life.

Everyone knows the story by now: Tiger Woods, once believed to be a wholesome family man and quintessential role model in the world of sports, was actually a sex-crazed adulterer. He cheated on his wife, for many years, with many different women. The man we believed him to be was a complete lie and fabrication. The world’s richest and most revered athlete was exposed as a slime-ball, for lack of a better word. And through it all, through nearly three months of rumors and scandals and accusations, Mr. Woods was nowhere to be found. No public comments, no golf tournaments, no exclusive interviews. He ran and hid – but he knew it couldn’t last forever. He knew he would eventually have to break his silence, show himself, and publicly own up to his actions. And that time was now. Whether you like sports or gossip magazines, how could you not be excited?

What would he look like? What would he say? Would he sound different? Act different? Would his wife be with him, or would he walk out with his shirt unbuttoned, chest-hair exposed, gold chain around his neck, tinted sunglasses, and a cocktail waitress adorned on each arm? Would he have tears in his eyes, or a creepy, porno mustache under his nose? The possibilities were endless. I was waiting with baited breath. And when he walked out to that podium, I was literally sitting up, dying to know what would happen next.

Unfortunately, Tiger walking to the podium was the peak of the event. If I did skip class to watch it, it was a mistake. Not because I missed class, but because his speech, to me, was rather disappointing. Because what I wanted and what Tiger gave us were two completely different things.

I wanted to know his plan for the future and when he was coming back to the golf course. I wanted to know if he still had a passion for the sport, if he would still be able to dominate the game of golf at the highest level. I cared about “Tiger the athlete” coming back to work. I didn’t care about all the other stuff, because it really doesn’t affect me. As a sports fan, Tiger’s golf game affects me. That’s what I was excited to hear about. I don’t think that Tiger Woods owes me, or anyone else in the general public, an apology. He didn’t cheat on me; he didn’t ruin my marriage or disgrace my name. Tiger should only have to apologize to his wife, his children, his family, and his closest friends.

Nevertheless, an apology is exactly what Tiger gave us. He stood up, among family (though not his wife and kids), friends, a hand-picked group of media members, and a gateway to the world, and told us all that he was sorry…for something. But what exactly was he sorry for? This is why I didn’t think we – and when I say we, I mean everyone except his family and closest friends – needed any type of a public apology. Tiger owes an apology to those people that he has actually hurt and brought pain to, and he doesn’t need a camera or a scripted speech to give it to them. He can apologize privately to his wife, his children, his mother, and his friends and family, and be as honest and open with them as he wants. And he should apologize to them, because his actions have caused immeasurable amounts of pain and embarrassment.

But how have his actions affected the rest of us? Why do his transgressions and infidelities require him to stare into the face of everyone watching on TV and tell them he’s sorry? How has my life been affected by him cheating on his wife? The truth is, it hasn’t, at least not negatively. That’s why we don’t need an apology. Nobody outside of Tiger’s close circle was hurt by the revelation that he was a sexual deviant, an adulterer in the most extreme sense of the word. Were we hurt or embarrassed by what Tiger did? Were we unable to go to work, show our face in public, or carry on with our everyday lives because of Tiger’s immoral actions? No. We didn’t cry ourselves to sleep or see a therapist or experience pain. We talked about it with our friends and family. We bought the Us Weekly’s and National Enquirer’s and laughed at the Saturday Night Live sketches and late night punch lines. We were interested in it, because Tiger is a public figure with a squeaky clean image, and because we are a society that craves information, especially about celebrities. But we weren’t hurt by it. So why apologize?

Some of us may feel betrayed by the fact that we looked up to Tiger or bought into his good guy/ family man image. We can be angry that we pointed to him as a role model and respected his lifestyle, until everything we were made to believe was proved utterly false. We can be disappointed by the way that he hid his true life from us and mistreated his family, disappointed at the way he has disgraced the sanctity of marriage and all of the wholesome traits and qualities that he allegedly stood for. We don’t have to like or respect him anymore, but we don’t need an apology. In the end, Tiger is just a regular guy that screws up, just like all of us.

We put Tiger on this pedestal because he’s a tremendous athlete that seemed to have a great and moral life. We believed that all the good things were true, and ignored the stories about his bad temper, unprofessional tantrums on the course, and his high-rolling trips to Vegas with Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. We thought he was different; we thought he was somehow better. Turns out, we were way off. So Tiger apologized. He apologized to his family and friends for being a selfish and irresponsible person, and he apologized to the rest of us for…umm…getting caught?

Or at least that’s the way it seemed when Tiger took the podium to make his speech. He read off of a script, in a slow, monotone, and robotic voice, like he was telling a group of third graders why drugs are bad or talking to a group of foreigners that barely understood English. Every time he paused, cleared his throat, touched his heart, or stared directly into the camera, it felt like he was being overly dramatic or auditioning for a soap opera. I was just waiting for the song “Faithfully” by Journey to start playing in the background. The whole thing felt completely contrived.

He said his actions stemmed from the fact that he felt he was above the rules, had a sense of entitlement, and somehow deserved to take advantage of the temptations that were all around him. Then he said that he now realized those things were not true, that he should be held to same standards as everyone else. Really? If he really believed that, then why was he talking to us like we were dumb little kids? Why did he refuse to take questions? Why did he hand-pick the media members that were allowed to attend, and then have them all frisked like they were about to enter the Oval Office? Why did he get to control how many cameras there were or who could have them? For someone that no longer felt a sense of entitlement, he sure acted like he was pretty damn special. And instead of saying “I’m sorry I screwed up,” it sounded a lot more like “I’m sorry I got busted and ruined my image.”

This is why I didn’t need nor want an apology. It’s tough to feel remorse and apologize to a bunch of nameless, faceless people who you hurt only in the sense that you duped them. I mean, how much is he really worried about us? If someone told Tiger that his wife, children, family, and friends would forgive him, but none of his fans or the media or general public ever would, you know he would welcome that scenario with open arms. Does he really care what we think at this point? Does he really want our forgiveness? How was his apology supposed to sound sincere, when he wasn’t sure who he was apologizing to or what he was apologizing for? In the words of George Costanza, “You can stuff your ‘sorrys’ in a sack, mister.” Save your ‘sorrys’ for the people that really deserve them, Tiger. Don’t fake one for the rest of us.

The only reason I wanted to hear Tiger talk was to find out his plans to return to professional golf. That is what Tiger is to us now: just a golfer. No matter how many times he apologizes or how he works things out with his wife and family, we will never forget what he did or the type of guy that he was. It’s very unlikely we will put him on that same pedestal again. But Tiger’s actions do not change the fact that he is a spectacularly talented and dedicated athlete, and has worked extremely hard for everything he accomplished. His missteps and failures don’t take anything away from the charity work he’s done and the money he has used to help others. He is a tremendous golfer, and to the “rest” of us, that is all that matters at this point.

We know who Tiger Woods is because of his skills on the golf course. If he wasn’t able to drive a ball 400 yards or make 30 foot putts, we wouldn’t be this invested and interested in his life. But what’s done is done. He can’t patch things up or work things out or go to therapy for his sports fans. All he can do is tell us when he will be back out there on the tees, whether it’s four weeks from now, four months from now, next year, or never. That’s why he is relevant to us, important to us, and of interest to us. And that’s the only reason – at least from this point forward.

But Tiger couldn’t answer my question. He said he didn’t know when he was coming back. Maybe this year. Maybe not. Instead, he asked each of us to “find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.” Hmm. Believe in you how? As a person? As an athlete? As a winner? As a sponsor and spokesman? As a father and husband? I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure Tiger knew what he meant, either. His demeanor and words were as perplexing and vague as the rest of his life has been over the past three months.

The speech was a failure. The apology, as empty and half-hearted as it came across, was actually unnecessary to begin with. The absence of information about his golf career made the whole thing feel like a waste. And after 14 minutes of speaking, Tiger still seemed lost and confused; lost about what to do next, and confused about both his present and his future.

And how fitting, because after 14 minutes of listening, we all feel the same way.

Thanks for reading