A train wreck unfolding with hyper-speed commentary from modern social media, that is.
The affair is a tragedy on several levels, from the public humiliation of Woods’ wife to the distinct prospect of job losses in the reeling Woods’ business empire (see also here). We should all have sympathy for those who are caught in this cauldron of insecurity resulting from Woods’ appalling arrogance and irresponsibility.
But in so saying, it is not my purpose to pile on with more harsh criticism of Woods. The only time I have met Woods was back in the mid-1990’s when he was attending Stanford and was in Houston practicing at Lochinvar Golf Club with his then-coach, Butch Harmon, who at that time was the head pro at the club.
When Butch introduced us, Woods could not have been more gracious. He thanked me as a club member for allowing him to practice at such a fine facility. My enduring thought of that brief encounter is that Woods’ parents did a very fine job of raising him.
Frankly, the type of societal ridicule that Woods and his family are enduring always makes me a bit uncomfortable. As noted years ago in connection with the death of Ken Lay, the preoccupation with Woods’ troubles is a palpable reminder of the fragile nature of the individual and civil society. The vulnerability that underlies our innate human insecurity is scary to behold, so we use myths and the related dynamics of scapegoating and resentment to distract us. We rationalize that a wealthy athlete did bad things that we would never do if placed in the same position (yeah, right) and thus, he is deserving of our scorn and ridicule. That the scapegoat is portrayed as arrogant and irresponsible makes the lynch mob even more bloodthirsty as it attempts to purge collectively that which is too shameful for us to confront individually.
In my experience, people in the public eye are often quite different in the context of a personal relationship than they are perceived publicly. That certainly could be the case with Woods, who people close to the PGA Tour tell me gets along quite well with most of his fellow Tour players. The same cannot be said about a number of other top Tour players from previous eras.
Similarly, the public scrutiny that Woods’ private life is currently enduring exceeds anything that a major sports figure has ever had to deal with (the Woods affair has been on the front page of the New York Daily News for the past ten days straight!). Arnold Palmer — a far more charismatic sportsman than Woods who is one of the few to rival Woods’ wealth and business empire — candidly admitted several years ago that, during his early days of success on the Tour, he had been less than completely faithful to his beloved late wife, Winnie. Although Palmer was never as indiscrete or arrogant as Woods has been, Palmer was also never subjected to the type of media scrutiny that Woods has endured. The media simply handled such things differently in Palmer’s heyday.
Moreover, Woods has been unfairly criticized for his behavior since the scandal broke open on the early morning after Thanksgiving. As I noted on Twitter on the Sunday morning after his early Friday morning car wreck, Woods’ silence has been absolutely essential and appropriate to the protection of his family and himself. Although none of us know what really happened leading up to Woods’ car wreck, Woods and his wife clearly faced at least the distinct possibility of serious criminal charges.
Under those circumstances, any competent lawyer would have advised Woods and his wife to refrain from saying anything to the police or publicly, as many public relations "experts" were proposing that they do. The bottom line is that Woods has done — and continues to do — the right thing by remaining silent.
On the other hand, Woods and his business team have their work cut out for them in attempting to stem the damage to the billion dollar Woods business empire resulting from the affair and the societal reaction to it. Woods’ main sponsors have stood by him so far, and I suspect that Nike — his main sponsor from the beginning of his career — will continue to support him.
But that Woods’ sponsors are staying with him now does not mean that they are going to renew their contractual arrangements with him.
You see, Woods has earned most of that billion dollar net worth by parleying his nearly unrivaled record of excellence on the golf course to sponsors who have wanted to associate with that excellence.
That, my friends, is literally uncharted territory.
Finally, in one key respect, Woods’ ordeal is similar to the one that former federal district judge Sam Kent endured over the past couple of years.
That is, how did the life of one of the most phenomenal athletes of our time come to this?
Where were Woods’ "friends" who knew about his risky behavior and his thinly-veiled insecurities that were manifested in such behavior?
Why did these "friends" not intervene and help him before it was too late?
The reality is that Tiger Woods
may not have any real friends.
And that might just be the saddest tragedy of this entire sordid affair.