I'll Take a Mulligan
Tiger Woods is very sorry. Now he wants you to please leave him alone.
In the encyclopedia of public apologies, file Tiger Woods' Friday entry under "I'm deeply sorry, I hate you, now die." In a 14-minute prepared statement, Woods expressed profound regret for his infidelity, saying that he had let down his wife, children, mother, friends, fans, corporate allies, and "kids all around the world." "I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me," he explained, standing before velvety blue curtains that looked more appropriate for a Broadway show. "I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame … I didn't have to go far to find them. I was wrong, I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me."
Only in that last bit—the notion that the "boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me"—did Woods come off as insincere. (OK, maybe not only in that last bit. Woods' pronouncement that he had let down "millions of kids" he had helped through his foundation was hilariously self-serving—less a profession of regret than a passive-aggressive public service announcement.) Friday's press conference proved that the sports world's biggest star, always aloof with the press, is more obsessed with boundaries than he's ever been. "As I proceed, I understand people have questions," Woods said, presumably a lead-in to an explanation that he'd answer those understandable questions at a later date. Instead, the golfer announced a perpetual vow of silence. "Please know that as far as I'm concerned, every one of these questions, and answers, is a matter between [my wife] and me," he said.
Woods' plea for privacy is understandable. "My behavior doesn't make it right for the media to follow my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to school and report the school's location," he said, a stance that's certainly correct. But Woods, in spinning the fiction that the entire press corps is stalking his toddler, is creating a pretense to rebuild the wall of privacy that the mainstream and golfing press once refused to breach.
As Charles P. Pierce wrote today, Tiger Woods "doesn't owe me—or anyone else—anything. … [I]f you were truly disappointed by the hash he's made of his life, then you're the sap." Woods certainly does not owe the public and the press any sort of explanation, nor can he expect the public and the press to lap up his self-righteous pose. Woods' guardedness was enabled by his athletic greatness and his squeaky-clean image—we wanted to know more about him even as we suspected that we'd find out wasn't particularly interesting. Now that we know different—that there are some freaky weird skeletons in a closet we once thought held 800 matching red shirts—his pleas for privacy seem both naive and undeserved. A man who got every consideration cannot politely ask for more.
In his quest to live a life of integrity, Woods said, he would return to the values that his Buddhist mother taught him. (This, at least, was a welcome variation on the traditional come-to-Jesus moment.) Woods also professed his plan to let his deeds speak louder than his words. That won't take much, considering that his words have been an inaudible whisper. Since his fire hydrant smash-up in November, Woods had spoken only through statements posted on his Web site. Still, though sound did finally emerge from his lips on Friday, Tiger took no questions. The writers who once kowtowed to his every whim weren't inclined to play along this time. The Golf Writers Association of America, for so long the Pravda of Tiger Woods Inc., voted to boycott Friday's press briefing because of the aggressive stage-managing by Tiger and his people—no questions, pool reporters only.
Too much has been made of the heckling and taunting Woods could face when he returns to the golf course. I've seen Tiger play in person only once, at a tournament in Washington, D.C., last year. What struck me, and what doesn't come across on television, is the fact that absolutely everyone in the packed-to-the-gills gallery stares at Woods constantly—when he's on the course, nothing else within view deserves your attention. As such, his accomplishments are that much more amazing. Sure, there's a difference between being the center of attention and the recipient of jeers. But nobody is better than Tiger Woods at tuning out and zoning in. I'm guessing he won't be deterred by a couple people shouting "Huge! Quickly! Bye!"
I have no doubt that Woods, when he chooses to return to golf, can once again turn the course into his sanctuary. ("I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don't know when that day will be," he said on Friday, adding that "I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game." One can only guess this means that he will stop cursing and throwing clubs. I don't believe there's anything in the rules of golf about having more than a dozen mistresses in your bag.) I'm not sure, though, about how he'll manage the rest of his life. No matter how much he pleads, the tabloids will never leave Woods alone, nor will his hagiographers continue to spit-shine his halo. Sure, Tiger Woods can zone out on the golf course. But can he really dodge questions for the rest of his life?
Slate V: Tiger Woods' apology