The Real Tiger Tragedy

Tiger Woods Watching the carnage unfold from the Tiger Woods affair is a bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

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.

What will those sponsors do — particularly in fast-changing and dynamic advertising markets — when excellence they previously associated with has been transformed into a joke?

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.

3 thoughts on “The Real Tiger Tragedy

  1. Tom,
    One of the differences between Tiger and those of us in the general public is that we do not hav ean army or attorneys, public relations people and advisors to cover up our indiscretions until they escalate to a full blown crisis.
    There seems to be information that Tiger did not enter into a sexual relationship with these 10 women all on the same day. rather, it seems that Tiger has been engaging in somewhat reckless behavior for some time and there have been incidents where his infidelities have been witnessed by others but have been overlooked or kept quiet in exchange for agreements by Tiger to do photo shoots for magazines or allegedly his making payments to certain nubile young women in exchange for their silence.
    The average individual does not have the ability to keep most information from being discussed in public without their significant other wondering why the $3,000,000 check made out to “Muffy/ Hush Payment” was written on the joint checking account. Tiger was able to live a life separate and distinct from his wife under the gusie of his running his “business affairs.”
    The lesson here is that society often moderates the destructive nature of most individuals. Friends, family and associates who care often signal disapproval of self destructive behavior. Not infrequently, the courts are called on to get involved. Additionally, employers often signal disapproval of the effects of self destructive behavior. In short, avrage individuals have various feedback mechanisms that force us to evaluate our self destructive behaviors. They are an important part of a functional life.
    Tiger obviously lacked these feedback mechanisms. Instead, he (much like Elvis, Michael Jackson, etc, etc) seems to have surrounded himself with enablers who tolerated his infidelities, facilitated them and seemingly allowed him to avoid feedback mechanisms necessary for him to be forced to confront his problems until they escalated to the point where they may cost him his marriage and leave lasting effects on the lives of his two small children.
    before Woods and his “business team” can begin rebuilding the Tiger Woods brand, someone needs to sit down with Tiger and help him evaluate the various relationships in his life. Unquestionably, he needs to gain separation from certain “advisors” who allowed him to indulge in personal weaknesses. He needs to cultivate relationships with individuals who can help him properly manage the path in life he seems to have chosen. And, in many ways, Tiger needs to grow up.

  2. Tiger Woodsí ordeal over the past couple weeks reminds me of the importance of defining your own message in todayís digital age.
    When a crisis or scandal of such a juicy nature embroils a celebrity, the glare of the media spotlight will surround them whether they choose to embrace it, and failure to face the storm provides fertile ground for rumors and innuendo.
    I wrote more about how Tiger should have addressed the media clearly and transparently on Bulletproof Blog: http://www.bulletproofblog.com/2009/12/08/social-media-versus-the-tiger/

  3. Pingback: A misfired missile shot at the Rocket | Houston's Clear Thinkers

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