Thoughts on the Tiger Woods Fiasco

Like most everyone in America, I’ve spent a good bit of the holiday weekend watching the Tiger Woods trainwreck unfold in slow motion in front of the world.  I was watching the Auburn-Alabama game while surfing online when I first saw tweets about it.  Oddly, I have frequently worried about Tiger’s safety — not fearful that he would do himself in  via a car wreck, but rather more worried about some whack job going after him for racial reasons, much as I have the same worry about Barack Obama.

So when the first news broke and it talked of Tiger’s condition being “serious” … there was a sense of deja vu and real fear for his safety.  I thought of Ben Hogan’s famous automobile accident which almost ended his career (something I know about historically, not old enough to remember).  I thought of Princess Diana.  I was worried.  Ir realized how much we take his incredible talent–and the blessing of being able to watch him–for granted.  I thought about his quest for 18 majors — he’s at 14 now — and how we all assume it will happen, yet of course life can intervene.

Within a couple of hours it was clear that Tiger was not in a life-threatening circumstance.  He had been “treated and released”.  Okay.  Good news as far as it goes.

But then — I suspect like millions of others — I began to think about exactly what had happened …. and why.   Why was he leaving at 2:25 am on Black Friday in such a hurry that he hit a hydrant and a tree?  What’s that about?  I had vaguely heard about he Enquirer story about him having a mistress….the timing seemed curious.

And then came the news that Elin got him out of the car by breaking both back windows with a golf club.  Immediately the questions started forming in my mind about what had really happened.  More details emerged — he was bleeding from the mouth and lips, not head.  Some reports said no blood on the steering wheel.  I found myself drawn into the speculation and indeed found myself generally subscribing to the view that what really happened was a marital dispute sparked by the Enquirer story; Elin busted him in the mouth; Tiger retreated; she chased him with a golf club; he lost control of the car; and the wreck happened.   But even as I started imagining this — I also began to wonder about whether or not I or anyone really has a right to delve too deeply into this.  I mean, if there was really a question of domestic abuse I guess it’s an issue of public concern but is that really what’s going on.  (What if it had been Elin who was accused of having a boyfriend; and Elin who crashed the car and came up bleeding from the mouth; and Tiger who was found in the street with golf club in hand, two windows smashed…..how would that read?)  I started wondering about a double standard, first of all in the sense of how Tiger as a celebrity would suddenly be subject to scrutiny none of the rest of us would face; and secondly how Tiger as a male “victim” (possibly) of domestic abuse would not be given the same “shelter” as would be the case if the roles were reversed.  Gender discrimination?  Maybe.

Today the 911 tape came out and it was intriguing– and up until now I haven’t heard anyone do the kind of detailed listening analysis that I tried to do.  By now anyone reading this has probably read the transcript.  The thing is, the transcript doesn’t really capture the interesting part of the tape, which is what can be heard from third parties — plus what the neighbor caller doesn’t say.  First of all, he never names Tiger and he never mentions Elin or anyone other than Tiger although at one point he responds to the question “are they in the car” with “no, they’re on the street.”  Does that refer to there being someone other than  Tiger? Does it refer to Elin? Or does the caller just say “they” to match the way the question was phrased?

And there is a voice on the tape — not the older woman who shouts “What happened?”, but a quieter, younger voice sayhing “….hit a tree” which is murmured in the background.  Sounded to me like it could be Elin.  It was chilling, and no one is talking about it or even acknowledging it as they write about it.  Listen to the tape — you can hear it.

But then I ask myself — why am I doing this?  Why am I spending my time listening to the tape as if I’m some kind of detective trying to figure out what happened?  Is that an intrusion into Tiger’s privacy?

And then came the news that Tiger has pretty definitively said “no” to an interview with the Highway Patrol, and at the same time has taken responsibility not just for the crash.  Listen to his words.  “This situation is my fault.”  I find myself thinking that the choice of words is significant.  No denial of the affair.  No threat of lawsuit even though he has a history of bringing suit to protect his privacy.  And the use of the words “This situation”……

Again …. why am I parsing this?  Why can’t I leave him alone?  He’s in agony and so is Elin.  Why not just let this be a private matter?

Through the afternoon on Sunday I do a little browsing and see a growing number of experts and pundits calling on Tiger to come clean.  PR experts are saying that the smart thing to do is own up to it — whatever “it” is — and move on.  They point out that even in a worst case scenario in which Tiger is guilty of having a mistress and Elin is chasing him with a golf club, he had the good judgment to try and get out of harms way, rather than engaging in a dust-up with Elin. I mean, who can blame him for trying to escape…and who can blame Elin for losing it faced with the allegations in the Enquirer story. It’s totally understandable that they would have a “marital moment”, and people would generally be willing to let go of it all if he would just step up, admit whtaever needs to be admitted, then claim privacy and tell everyone to bug off.  People would do that — they would leave him alone — and he would recover eventually, much as Kobe Bryant has.

But are they right? Or are Tiger’s advisors right — the ones who are telling him that he can just keep this private, that he doesn’t  “owe” anyone an explanation, that his celebrity does not mean that he automatically forfeits all his rights to privacy that the rest of us enjoy?

In a way, I guess it depends on whether Tiger considers himself to be a person — in which case he can claim privacy — or a “brand” — because there is not doubt that the Tiger Woods “brand” is being damaged by this and all the smart PR people are giving advice on the the premise that the goal is to protect the “brand”.  But Tiger may be beyond that.  He’s made more money than he can spend.  If his silence costs him 20 or 30 or $100m in endorsements, maybe it’s worth it to him in a way that the PR experts find hard to fathom.

And so I find myself still wondering…..are we right to demand an explanation?  Or should we just let go and leave Tiger and Elin to sort out their private life?

I’m still wondering about it.

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~ by Michael Sellers on November 29, 2009.

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