Word broke in the early evening yesterday that Tiger Woods had announced on his website that he will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from professional golf.
My initial, gut reaction was to think good for Tiger and his family. That’s the right decision to make.
And if Tiger’s #1 goal right now is to make every effort to repair his relationship with Elin, and to protect his children from the harsh glare of a negative media spotlight that now shines upon the family, then taking a leave of absence from golf and from the U.S. is about as sensible an idea as I can think of.
However, in the immediate aftermath of Tiger’s decision, almost every media person that I have heard and read this morning seems to be, astonishingly, buying wholeheartedly into the gut reaction I described above.
Meaning, of course, that they’ve learned nothing from the past three weeks.
Because here is the thing: Tiger taking a leave of absence right now from golf is most certainly the best thing he can do immediately for his marriage and family; but, it is also the best thing he can do for his image.
So ultimately, it seems a little foolhardy to be heaping praise on Tiger for making the obvious decision.
(Side note: Or perhaps we should be cheering Tiger for making the obvious decision. For many of us, not getting into affairs with porn stars and Perkins waitresses when you have a beautiful wife, kids, and so much stake, would seem to have been the obvious choice. So maybe this is, in fact, progress.)
The feeling I am getting is that the very same media that has given Tiger the benefit of the doubt for 13 years is right back at it giving him the benefit of the doubt again. From his “I guess, hello world” intro until today, it has become clear that every public action and statement made by Tiger Woods and his people has been aimed at crafting his image in some particular way.
And, as we have learned over the past three weeks, the myth that was created masked a sordid underbelly of promiscuousness, sexual addiction, and disingenuousness.
Thus, why is everyone so quick to assume that Tiger is taking a leave of absence because it is in the best interests of his family? Has he really earned that level of trust from us?
I don’t think so.
Let me make another quick aside here, if you will indulge me, because I think the context is important.
I am a huge Tiger Woods fan. I am extremely frustrated that all of this stuff has come out, not so much because he isn’t the family man that he was portrayed to be, but because it interferes with the reason I like him anyway: he is the best golfer I have ever seen and my favorite current athlete to watch.
I know that for a lot of the women out there, including many I’ve talked to, they now view Tiger as a low-life scumbag who they can barely look it. I get that feeling. I understand it. They empathize with Elin and the kids. And I do too, but…
At the end of the day, I wasn’t cheering for Tiger Woods because he was on a quest for 19 Dad and Husband of the Year trophies. I’ve followed him for 13 years to see if he could actually live up to the hype and potential on the golf course. Could he actually supplant Jack at the top of Majors list and win 19? And where would it stop? How great could Tiger become?
I don’t know Tiger and Elin (and neither, probably, do you), so it’s really hard for me to get worked up in a frenzy over the infidelity angle because no one I care about has been hurt. I think Tiger was wrong and it has changed my opinion of him as a person, but that is an opinion that I wouldn’t even have in the first place if it weren’t for the golf.
And now we don’t even have the golf.
Tiger, at the end of the day, is not a teacher, he’s not a church leader, and he’s not a politician making decisions that affect people. He is an athlete, which puts him in the category of entertainer, no matter how much Earl, Nike, and IMG wanted to present him as a transcendent world figure.
So even though he’s done some things in his personal life that I consider despicable, he has not yet, to my knowledge, been accused of cheating on the golf course.
With that being the case, I just want to see him – from my own selfish perspective – play golf again. End of story. I don’t need him to cry on Oprah’s coach to root for his putts to drop.
But therein lies the rub: Tiger, to protect what he can of the vast endorsement and wealth empire he has created, does need the world to see him cry on Oprah’s coach (or wherever he chooses to cry). People like my girlfriend need to see some genuine contrition to even consider ever liking him, rooting for him, or, more importantly, not boycotting products that he endorses.
If Tiger had chosen to just play golf in January acting like nothing was wrong, he’d fall into even more dire straits with so many of the people that his previously vanilla image was created to appeal to from a marketing perspective. So, as I mentioned above, taking an “indefinite hiatus” was a no brainer.
I guess I just find it amusing to see so many people in the mainstream media eating this announcement up as if it were video of Tiger on his hands and knees begging Elin to forgive him. It’s not.
The first sign? Look at the title of the post: “Tiger Woods taking hiatus from golf.” Why not “I am taking a hiatus from golf.” I’ll acknowledge that I am perhaps being a bit nit-picky here, but I believe that there is some symbolism here that is telling.
Tiger Woods’ entire world has been fabricated to create a certain image, a certain myth. Every public word and action has seemed particularly chosen and constructed. I look at his announcement on his website and think that if I was attempting to address my readers about a serious topic with some level of sincerity, all third person references would be gone.
I know that a title is a small and possibly insignificant thing, and maybe Tiger typed out the post and sent it to whoever manages the site for posting so he had no influence on the title. Whatever the chain of events was…that is my point.
People today are fawning over this message like it’s a personal email Tiger sent to all of us who have invested our time, energy, and money into his career. It’s not. It is an impersonal posting on his blog that tells us nothing.
But how can you say it tells us nothing? He admitted to infidelity and said he’s taking an indefinite hiatus!
First of all, he gets no credit from me for admitting to any infidelities. His hand was forced. And secondly, his choice of words once again appears delicately (and expertly) crafted:
After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf. I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person.
What this means, of course, is that the door is open for Tiger to make his triumphant return to Augusta in April, or any other time he so chooses. And before you say offhand no way! The Masters? That’s too soon!, think about how many huge sports news cycle are still to come between now and then:
- The rest of the NFL regular season
- The NFL playoffs
- Super Bowl week
- Any important Winter signings in baseball
- Pitchers and catchers reporting
- Championship Week for college basketball
- March Madness
Assuming that there are no more huge revelations in the Tiger story, it will fade from the public consciousness once Tiger and Elin are halfway across the world. Out of sight, out of mind. By the time April rolls around, this will seem like a distant memory and it will feel like Tiger and Elin have had years in solitude to work on their marriage.
If you want a comparison, think about how long ago your fantasy football drafts were. Seems like ages right? With a new 24-hour news cycle every day, four months is more like four years when it comes to celebrity news like this.
So what’s the point I am making here? The point is this: people can applaud Tiger’s decision to announce his “indefinite break from professional golf” and, in part, they should. It’s the right move.
But to immediately jump to the conclusion that Tiger has suddenly changed and become a selfless man who is 100% committed to the best interests of his family – and that the decision was made solely with that in mind – would simply be naive.
His decision is also in the best interests of his public image and future bank account. The question that we’ll never know is which reason influenced his decision more. But if we’re not at least considering it, we’re simply proving that we’re still willing to eat up whatever Tiger feeds us.
Personally, I don’t care why he made the decision. I’m more interested in the public’s reaction to it. Like I said above, I just want to see Tiger back on the golf course as quickly as humanly possible. I realize that not everyone shares my opinion, and that he has serious issues at home, so I understand his decision to walk away for a bit.
But I think the most important result that come out of everything that has happened over the past three weeks is the possibility for Tiger to have a much more genuine relationship with his fans upon his return.
If we’ve learned anything from what has happened, it’s that we knew absolutely nothing about Tiger the person. He just happened to be so ridiculously good at golf that no one really cared. There was an aspect to Tiger’s machine-like quality that we all were astounded by and admired, and we figured that was how he was off the course as well. At least, that’s how we filled in the unknowns.
But the incredible thing about this whole story is that Tiger is not a machine. He’s not a golf-obsessed robot focused only on athletic dominance 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Tiger Woods is a man with incredible athletic gifts, a supreme ability to focus in clutch situations, and an ability to capture the “big moment” that is breathtaking. Incredibly, he is also a man with foibles, demons, and peccadillos, just like the rest of us.
For his entire career, Tiger Woods has appeared to be better than everyone else at everything, not just golf. We all knew he could kick our asses on the golf courses, and I think deep down we also figured he was probably better than us at everything else too. There were no vulnerabilities. No chinks in the armor.
Now there are, and I think in the long run, it could ultimately make him a more accessible figure to fans, rather than a mythic being we all are simply in awe of. He played that card for 13 years. It’s now done. I will be fascinated to see what happens when he returns.
And this is where, I think, the media can play a huge role, and perhaps even has a responsibility.
For so long, Tiger Woods has been accountable to no one. Why do you think he hasn’t spoken publicly about this yet? Why do you think he felt so omnipotent that he could carry on this double-life without it ever infiltrating the myth?
This is a guy about whom it was said that he would one day be the most important man on earth, and except for a pretty voiceless peanut gallery, no one ever really disputed it. You try maintaining a reasonable level of humility when that is your reality.
Now, I think it’s up to the media and Tiger’s fans to not settle for the my-way-or-highway attitude that he’s carried for so long. We no longer have any reason to accept his words at face value. Everything until this point has been constructed to shape our views of Tiger how he (and perhaps moreso, they) wanted our views to be shaped.
But now I think it’s more than reasonable for us to demand more. We bought into the myth of Tiger’s all-around human greatness when really his greatness was relegated only to what we liked about him in the first place: his golf.
And now we’ve seen the skeletons in his closet that have deconstructed the rest of the myth. So forget all of that. We don’t need the rest of it; at least I don’t.
Whenever Tiger does return (and I say it’s for this year’s Masters and perhaps one tournament before to warm up…just my opinion) I simply want to cheer the golfer again and hopefully see a person who is more humble and more accessible off the course. Yet, if the media continues to eat up every word he says without challenging its intention, why will Tiger ever feel the need to be more honest? Why not just rebuild the walls that have crumbled since Thanksgiving?
I’m sure Tiger now feels the need to be more honest with Elin – fending off a crazed attack with a golf club will have that effect.
And in many ways what has happened to Tiger in the media over the past three weeks has also probably felt, figuratively speaking, like a crazed attack with a golf club.
So just like Elin is going to demand accountability if Tiger really wants to rebuild his marriage, we should demand accountability if Tiger really wants to rebuild his image.
To me, it seems like way too many people are giving Tiger the benefit of the doubt this morning because of four impersonal paragraphs on his website that he may or may not have written himself. All things considered, shouldn’t we all take more of a wait-and-see approach before totally buying into anything Tiger says anymore?
I say yes, even those us for whom the word anxiously should be placed before the wait.
Ultimately, we can’t judge anything Tiger says now until we see what happens between now and when he returns to golf. That’s what we are waiting for, and I am already decidedly anxious for his return.
Because for me, like everyone else who does not personally know Tiger and his wife, none of the rest of it ever would have mattered without the golf.
* – Tiger Woods photo credit: iSportsPix