Tiger Woods had to break the Guinness Book of records for the number of times he said ‘I was wrong, I am sorry, I will change’ in his public statement today. This should have been enough to knock off the Tiger bashing. His behavior though disgraceful and hypocritical does not rise to the level of a state crime or a serial impeachable offense. The hurt he inflicted was to his wife, children, and his battered image. That’s personal, private, and a family matter. Period.
Woods could have simply shrugged off the criticism, thumbed his nose at the fans and the golf world, but he didn’t. He realized he needed help. He checked into a rehab center and for all intents and purposes is still there, and will continue to stay there. He dropped out of golf, and in the process, lost millions of dollars in winnings. He did not conduct an orchestrated media blitz campaign to duck, deny, and dodge responsibility for his behavior. He did not respond to the vicious attacks from pundits, his golf pals, and the alleged mistresses and their attorney who came out the woodworks in droves to claim a piece of the Tiger action.
Woods knows that the road back won’t be easy. He said as much in his statement. When he does eventually return to the circuit, he will still hear the whispers, snickers, digs and maybe even some boos. That’s the price he’ll continue to pay for behavior many still self-righteously judge as unbecoming of a one-time fan idol. Despite his heartfelt apology and plea for forgiveness, there will still be those who will carp, grouse and furiously shake their heads in disbelief that Woods really meant what he said about change. They will claim that it’s just a cheap public relations ploy (complete with the teary eyes) to regain public sympathy and get back on the course with as little fanfare and controversy as possible. This is of course the crass and cynical view. But that view will be well spewed by many.
The most compelling thing about Woods’ public apology is that he made one at all, and not just an apology but that he truly bared his soul and heart to the world. As he said this is a huge first step for him, but it’s a necessary step on the path to recovery.
Woods’ ability to rise above the fray and the criticisms has long been an asset. He continually and graciously shrugged off the inanities, racial knocks, quips and wisecracks from commentators and his fellow golf pros during his decade run at every tournament championship around. It didn’t stop the gossip mongers. Woods is simply too big, too good and too rich for the tastes of a wide swath of the public and the celebrity-crazed media.
When he tore up the greens, he became the gatekeeper for the storehouse of fantasies and delusions of a sports-crazed public as well as advertisers, sportswriters and TV executives in desperate need of vicarious excitement and profits. He was the ultimate in the sports hero who fulfilled that need.
He was expected to move in the rarefied air above the fray of human problems while raising society’s expectation of what’s good and wholesome. He’s been handsomely rewarded for fulfilling that fantasy even though, as he admitted in his statement about the accident on his website tigerwoods.com, he is only human. He reminded the world of the obvious. He has the same flaws and foibles as anyone else.
The Woods beat down has been especially ferocious precisely because of his surreal fame and fortune. Black superstars cause much media and public hurt when they supposedly betray the collective self-delusion of sport as pure and pristine. That stirs even greater jealousy and resentment. That was evident in the constant fan and sportswriter carping about how spoiled, pampered and overpaid Woods and black athletes supposedly are. The first hint of any bad behavior by them ignites a torrent of moral high horse columns and commentary on the supposedly arrogant, above-the-law black athlete. Woods made direct reference to that in his statement when he noted that he thought his status, celebrity, and wealth entitled him to act differently than anyone else. He got a rude awakening on that.
Woods has had his day, many days, in the court of public opinion. Many have judged him irrevocably guilty and they will not change that view. But for those with an ounce of forgiveness in their heart Woods soul-baring apology will be the spur to knock off the Tiger beat down.