I always have. I always will. I love miniature golf. And Chi Chi Rodriguez seemed like a cool dude (for a golfer). But I don’t care for golf performers in general.
I say performers instead of athletes because that’s what golfers are: performers. Golf requires incredible amounts of practice and honing a skill set. So does playing the piano, chess, and sewing. That doesn’t make them a sport. Years ago, aspiring golfer Casey Martin sued the PGA for the right to use a motorized cart to get around golf courses. Martin has Parkes-Weber syndrome, a birth defect resulting in vascular malformation which causes degenerative ailments in the legs, making it nearly impossible for him to walk an 18-hole course. The PGA refused to let Martin ride; their defense boiled down to: “Tough shit, rubber legs. Walking makes golf a sport.” Next time someone calls while you’re strolling through the mall shopping and asks what you’re doing, you can tell them you’re golfing.
Three weeks ago, news broke that Tiger Woods had been in a car accident. These days, most golf fans aren’t golf fans, they’re Tiger fans. So the initial reaction to the accident focused on how badly Woods was hurt, and whether it’d affect his game. As it turns out, we needn’t have worried: Tiger’s “game” was doing just fine.
Over the past three weeks, a stream of hussies and mobile blow-up dolls have leaked out of the background like puss from a wound to tell us about their affairs with the world’s richest Urkel. Somehow the hard-hitting journalists from Entertainment Tonight and the National Enquirer neglected to ask these women why none of them came forward with their love-struck stories until after Rachel Uchitel, the first of the dirty dozen, did. In these hussies’ defense, Uchitel did not set the best example: first she indignantly denied any allegations of philandering, then hired celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and announced she’d hold a press conference to spill the dirt about cheating with Tiger, then 5 minutes before the press conference was set to begin it was abruptly canceled…right around the time she signed an agreement paying her $1 million a year over 5 years from Woods to keep her Botoxed mouth shut. Since then, a new woman pops up every day to tell the world her variation on the following themes:
–The sex was great.
–I thought he loved me.
–I didn’t know he was married.
–When I found out he was, he said he’d leave his wife for me…and if you can’t trust a man who’s cheating on his wife, who can you trust?
–Tiger broke my heart.
–It’s just a coincidence that I kept quiet about all this until I saw other women were getting paid to talk about it.
–Wanna hear about my website?
–I never suspected he was sleeping with other women. He said I was the only one, and I believed him, ‘cuz if you can’t trust a man who’s cheating on his wife, who can you trust?
–Yes, that’s me you saw [on a sex tape] [in a porno] [on a call-girl roster].
–No, I don’t think I’m a whore.
There are, I think, three Tiger Woods: Tiger the public figure, Tiger the husband and father, and Tiger the individual.
Tiger the public figure has taken a beating of late. It’s estimated Woods, the first billion-dollar “athlete,” made 90% of his income from endorsements and corporate tie-ins. Several of his sponsorship deals have been shrunk or dropped since the news broke that Tiger’s been playing 18 holes off the links. Predictably, given Woods’ popularity and the number of people who make money off of him, some specious defenses have been raised. One of these defenses came from Charles Barkley, a barometer of morality if ever there was one, who once spit on a little girl seated courtside, who threw a man threw a plate-glass window at a club one night, who was cited in a civil complaint for owing nearly a half-million dollars in gambling debts, and who last year was arrested for drunk driving after offering to tattoo the arresting officer’s name on his butt if that would get him out of trouble and admitting he was driving around drunk because he was in a hurry to pull over and get a blow job from his female passenger, who it turns out was not his wife. So if anyone is fit to comment on infidelity, it would be Barkley.
Sir Charles is friends with Tiger, and his defense of Woods’ behavior is what you’d expect from a friend and fellow celebrity: Tiger doesn’t owe the public an apology or an explanation; Tiger doesn’t owe the public anything. This is a private matter and the only people Tiger needs to be dealing with are his family. That’s a fair statement if Tiger plans on handing back the $900 mil he’s racked up pushing himself on the public since breaking into pro golf in 1996. Barkley is a celebrity who embraces the perks of fame when it gets him into the VIP room, or keeps him from having to wait for a table at a 5-star restaurant that doesn’t take reservations and has a line of people waiting all the way down the block. When being a celebrity is all good, then he’s down for the cause. But when the check comes due on his fame, suddenly he’s just like you and me, a regular dude looking to be left alone and free to live his life…a life of champagne rooms and product endorsements and running around with women who wouldn’t look at him twice if he made $35,000 a year working at a call center.
Tiger has stated that he has 2 goals in life: to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major tournaments won, and to be the first billion dollar “athlete.” While purse winnings have quadrupled from when Woods first joined the PGA, from $70 million in 1996 to $278 million this year, the bulk of his earnings have always come from his endorsement deals. If he wants to trade on his public image, then he has to accept that the prism between seller and buyer is a two-way mirror. If you stand up in front of the masses and say “Look at me,” don’t complain when they take you up on your offer.
Tiger the family man has taken a beating of late.
This one’s fairly simple: he’s a married man and a father of two. Woods’ wife is herself a child of divorce. He had to know this wasn’t someone who thought wedding vows were figurative. Plus she’s Nordic. Nordic women gave the world the Vikings. You don’t mess with Nordic women. No one put a gun to Tiger’s head and said, “Marry a Swedish goddess.” I imagine it was his free will that led to that marriage proposal. If he didn’t want to stay with one woman, he shouldn’t have pledged his fidelity to one woman. Derek Jeter is amazing for a whole host of reasons, one of which is that he’s never been stupid enough to get married. I don’t mean getting married makes you stupid. I mean that if you’re someone who knows you like sampler plates more than entreés, you don’t order an entrée and halfway through it mutter, “This isn’t what I wanted” and start picking at other people’s plates…and if you do, don’t expect everyone else to be cool with it. If Tiger’s wife leaves him, it will cost him hundreds of millions of dollars, money he may never win enough tournaments to recoup. If she stays with him, she’ll probably make him build her a den where she can bronze his balls and mount them over the fireplace, because she’s going to own them the rest of his life. When his children are old enough to discover Google, or start school and meet other kids, the hell he’s put his wife through will spread to them, too. He’s taken a beating from his family, and he’s earned it.
However, Tiger Woods is a human being. He is fallible. He is certainly not the first adulterer in human history, as surely as he is not the last. There have been points where the public hypocrisy regarding Woods’ fall has been breathtaking. I nearly fell down the other day when I saw David Letterman making reference to Tiger’s cheating—given that I was sitting on the couch, nearly falling down was harder than it sounds. Letterman joking about Tiger isn’t even the pot calling the kettle black; it’s the pot thinking it’s a spatula, then calling the kettle a pot. I know about how adultery affects people. My family was torn apart by it. A few people in my life tried to talk to me about it, to be supportive; most people kept quiet, which didn’t help, but which I understood. As far as conversation-starters go, discussing adultery freely falls somewhere between “What’s with all the cold sores you’ve been having lately?” and “Are you getting fatter?”
I’m not advocating people walk around tapping each other on the shoulder and asking to talk about the time their heart was ripped apart. But when people I know who never said a word of support to me during my hell bitch about what Tiger has done, I struggle to understand. It’s easy to point fingers at someone you can’t reach. It’s just as easy to put your arms around someone you can. Tiger Woods is a person, the same as the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, he was trained relentlessly by his father to be a robotic golfing machine. He didn’t have a childhood, or an adolescence: he had golf, golf, golf. When we hear about Russian tennis prodigies who do nothing but train from age 3 onward to be the best in the world, we cluck sadly about how they’ve had their free will stolen, how they’ve missed out on life because of someone else’s obsession. Tiger clearly has a significant blind spot between the way he wants to be seen, in public and private, and the way he actually is. Being a prodigy or a celebrity doesn’t make someone a cheater; plenty of rubes and norms cheat. But there’s a bit of Hester Prynne/Scarlet Letter-level hatred being tossed Tiger’s way by people who have NOTHING to do with his life. Does Tiger cheating hurt me? Does it hurt you? It hurts him.
Yes, he brought it on himself, but do we cast him aside because it turns out he isn’t different from the rest of the world after all? We didn’t know that already? Tiger’s as much of a miracle as you or I or any other organic matter. It’s an interesting story, it’s salacious, it’s fun to gossip about, sure. But at the end of the day it’s a sad man who’s hurt the people he’s closest to, who may not understand why he’s done so or how to stop. It’s been said you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Sometimes that’s just as stupid as it sounds.
Phil Knight, the head of Nike, Tiger’s chief sponsor, said, regarding the Tiger sex scandal, “…I think he’s been really great. When his career is over, you’ll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip.” If Phil Knight is married, I hope he removed all the sharp items from his home before saying this.
Nike doesn’t care about Tiger the person. Tiger may be dying inside, may feel like his soul is tearing up, may be feeling suicidal (which some stories have suggested), but Nike doesn’t care. Phil Knight will go so far as to surgically conjoin himself to Tiger so that he can keep an eye on him 24/7 and make sure he doesn’t kill himself, just to protect Nike’s investment in Woods. I think the companies that have ended their relationships with Woods this week did so for purely selfish reasons, but I think they did him a favor in the process. Dropping Tiger as a spokesman shrinks his public persona, it tilts the balance ever so slightly toward him being a person again, rather than a self-promotion. Even though Nike is standing by him, it’d probably be healthier for Woods to walk away from them. Focus on your wife, on your kids; focus on golf, if you care about the game so much. He can and probably still will break the record for majors won. Between that and having a loving family, that’d still make him one of the richest men on the planet. As far as continuing to perform for Nike and his other business partners, those pimps: Just don’t do it.