Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tiger's Talk

A lot was made over Tiger’s mea culpa this past Friday. Some PGA players were upset at the timing, since it took place on during the Accenture Match Play Championship. People speculated that Tiger timed his press conference to get back at Accenture for dropping him as a sponsor. PGA officials however, have stated that they gave Tiger clearance for the press conference and granted him access to their facilities to conduct his public engagement.

Let’s be honest, Ernie Els can complain all he wants but the fact remains that the PGA is a shadow of what itself without Tiger. Since Tiger joined the PGA, purses have tripled, mediocre golfers are getting noticed and sponsorship money is at an all time high. Rocco Mediate is still doing interviews because his greatest achievement as a golfer is LOSING to Tiger Woods. Golf has become much more popular with a much younger crowd. That’s because of Tiger Woods. So back off and let the guy speak—it doesn’t matter if it’s during the final round of the Masters--he’s only been putting food on your table for the last 13 years.

Even if Tiger’s timing was vindictive, so what? Tiger is bigger than any non-major event on the tour. This is clear when you look at the attendance of any non-major event. Patron Passes sell out when Tiger confirms his participation. He’s like an instant cash infusion. Last weekend’s event was marginalized because Tiger wasn’t playing, his press conference actually drew more attention to the event because news crews wanted the reaction from other players. Ernie Els should be thanking him because if not for Tiger nobody would have put a microphone in front of his face.

Some people think Tiger’s response was insincere. He read a statement and didn’t speak from the heart. So? Tiger is not a person anymore, he is a corporation. Tiger can’t afford to speak from the heart because he is responsible for an enterprise that is worth more than a billion dollars. Corporations hire PR firms to craft statements, that’s what Tiger did.

People have tried to compare Tiger’s exploits to those experienced by other athletes. The problem is, there’s no comparison. A friend asked me what people would have thought if another golfer had done the same thing. I told him they wouldn’t have thought anything because people don’t care about other golfers. Tiger’s extramarital adventures are bigger news then Bill Clinton’s office BJ from Monica Lewinsky.

Tiger Woods is the biggest name in sports, which is amazing because he plays a sport few people find interesting. Tiger is bigger than the NHL or the NBA, which is why his affair(s), that doesn’t include criminal charges, is bigger news than Kobe Bryant’s. Granted, the allegations against Kobe were false but Kobe didn’t take time away from the game. He might have missed a start or two, but he didn’t take a leave of absence and enter rehab. Koba apologized to his fans and sponsors, bought his wife a big diamond ring and moved on. He endured a season’s worth of consternation from some fans, but he wasn’t taken to task the way Tiger has been.

Tiger’s demise is bigger news than Michael Vick, who actually committed crimes. He did Federal time and could very well be starting at QB for an NFL team next year.

Tiger didn’t break any laws. Forget about the petty traffic violations, nobody in their right mind thinks anything of that. People like to speculate as to what really happened, but Tiger’s not talking. Did Elin take after him with a sand wedge? Maybe, but that’s really between them. The cops seem satisfied with issuing a citation and hitting Tiger up for the cost to repair the damage. No big deal.

Ultimately Tiger cheated on his wife. He didn’t hurt anybody else. The women he slept with knew who he was and knew that he was married. They were using him as much as—prehaps even more than—he was using them. Tiger wanted sex, they wanted money, fame or both. He doesn’t owe any of them an apology. He doesn’t owe his fans an apology. He only has to make amends with his wife.

Tiger never cultivated an image. He was always a robotic prick who wanted to win. His focus on the task at hand caused him to be less than engaging with fans in the gallery. If things weren’t going well he could become surly and he was known for flinging around some harsh language. Of course anybody who has golfed will tell you that the most commonly heard four letter word shouted on the course is not ‘fore’ but it tends to follw a shot as well and it also starts with the letter ‘f”. To be honest, club throwing and cursing is all too common a sight on a golf course. It’s just that Tiger tends to be on camera more than any other golfer.

Because Tiger tends to be so robotic, people created an image for him. We assumed that he was so dedicated to golf that there wasn’t much off the course that brought him pleasure. We didn’t see him yucking it up with celebrities or clowning around on Saturday Night Live like Peyton Manning, but even though Tiger never tipped us off to his sexual transgressions, he also never gave us any reason to assume he was a boy scout. Tiger failed to live up to our expectations, but why did we have those expectations? What did Tiger do to make us assume he was a saint?

It’s not like Steve Garvey who wholeheartedly embraced his “Mr. Clean” persona, even though he was cheating on his wife. A lot. It’s also not like John Edwards who presented himself as a loving husband standing by his wife’s side while she battled cancer only to maintain an child-bearing affair with a tasty blonde. Tiger always kept his personal life under wraps and he never tried to sell us a persona. He always comes across as stiff and robotic.

Of course now people are questioning his sincerity. They aren’t buying Tiger’s apology. He let his lawyers write a statement and then he read it before a carefully selected audience that was not allowed to ask him any questions. How dare he?

But who is Tiger supposed to answer to? His sponsors have a choice, they can cut ties with him and find somebody who fits their image. Tiger’s fans have a choice as well, they can hop on the Mickelson bandwagon and cheer while Phil fights to keep his man boobs from chafing. The only people Tiger has to face are those he hurt. His wife and his family get to judge him. They’ll determine whether or not he’s sincere.

If Tiger’s putting on an act, it’s not for us it’s for them. He didn’t violate our trust. There’s no reason he can’t go back on the PGA tour tomorrow and win another PGA Player of the Year trophy. Moreover, he can do continue to cheat on his wife while he does it.

Tiger is a global icon. He transcends what we understand of fame. This guy is a golfer and he has made Michael Jordan look like a bush league side show. What sets Tiger apart is the way he has distanced himself from the spotlight. Tiger does commercials because he gets paid to. He does golf-oriented interviews because he has to, although it’s often lamented that he doesn’t do many golf-oriented interviews and is quick to retreat into seclusion. If Tiger wanted more exposure he could surely have it but Tiger opts to keep a pretty low profile. Yeah, we see a lot of Tiger, but how much of it is initiated by him? The guy seems genuinely uncomfortable with attention.

He also seems genuinely concerned about his marriage. Other celebrities don’t take time off to make things right, not unless a judge tells them to, anyway. Tiger is, for all intents and purposes, a rock star. He’s rich, he’s got millions of fans who go out of their way to see him perform and his wife is a bikini model. Is it any wonder that he’s a womanizer?

Tiger spoke of the temptations he faced and the sense of entitlement he felt. He worked hard all his life to be the best in the world. He deserved the spoils. Of course he didn’t think about how it would affect other people, that’s probably because those people aren’t in the gym at 6:00am working their butts off to be the best.

Were his actions selfish? Sure, but isn’t the culture of professional athleticism inherently selfish as well? The amount of work you have to put in to being the best at what you do demands it. Tiger was raised to put his success on the golf course first and a by product of that is not thinking about how your actions will affect others. Why do you think so many people of Tiger’s ilk--other professional athletes, actors, singers…politicians--seem more likely to cheat on their spouses?

Tiger’s sincerity is nobody’s concern but Elin’s. There’s no question that every word was measured but he doesn’t have to speak from the heart to anybody but the people he loves. His relationship with everybody else is strictly professional.

As great as Tiger is, there were a lot of people who hated him. Some hated him because of his race, others because he’s not friendly enough mostly he’s reviled because he’s so much better than everybody else. Those people are always going to find reasons to hate Tiger. That’s fine. It’s natural to create heroes and villains. Somebody has to be the bad guy and in every event Tiger plays he’s the favorite to win so there is never any shortage of underdogs. Tiger is the Darth Vader of the PGA . Fair enough, just don’t pretend that you started hating him after this story broke.

The majority of the people who liked Tiger will continue to like him. They’re pulling for him. If anything, the media frenzy around his private turmoil will probably rally more people around him. When he comes back the best golfer in the world will be an underdog. He’s been properly humiliated and people will cheer him on as he overcomes the consternation to win his first major since the fallout of his affairs.

Ultimately, Tiger Woods will be just fine. His marriage might fail and he could end up paying Canada’s GNP in child support for the next 17 years but he’s got plenty of money and the means to earn more. Other people will cheat on their wives and the tawdry tales of their elicit affairs might make headlines as well. People will remember that this is nothing new and they’ll remind themselves not to get personally invested in people they don’t know.

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