Whitlock: Here's the truth behind the Tiger Woods scandal
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column has been retrieved from our archives. It was originally published December 13, 2009.
There's more money and less intellectual effort in judging, vilifying and diminishing Tiger Woods than in providing the public a lens to understand him and a sports world/culture that long ago was perverted by television's money and fame.
It takes no courage or thought to recognize Tiger's personal failure. He, as far as we know, shamed his wife and family. We can assume Tiger's Swedish wife adopted our American marriage value of strict monogamy, and she is mortified and shocked that her ridiculously famous, handsome, billionaire husband gave in to the temptation of road beef.
Yes, assumption is the platform from which all insightful ideas, opinions and perspective are based.
Armed with the supposition that this brown-skinned golfer has irreversibly harmed an attractive, blonde-haired, blue-eyed white woman, much of the sports media have turned Elin Nordegren into Natalee Holloway and reached for ratings and relevancy by traveling the route paved by Nancy Grace.
There is, believe it or not, another direction to explore. There is another reality we can reluctantly accept. If we choose, we, the media, can do our job and put Tiger's transgressions in their proper context and explain to the public what happened to the perceived traditional ideals of the sports world.
The high-character values and morality we've ascribed to the male and female athletes who entertain us were a myth in the 20th century and a flat-out impossibility now.
When television took control of sports 40 years ago, athletes became America's first reality TV stars and no different from daytime soap opera stars.
When television's money and spotlight began turning 20-year-old athletes into instant millionaires, celebrities and brands, the Jordans, Peyton Mannings, LeBron James, Roger Clemens, Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps of the world became no different from Jon Bon Jovi, Mick Jagger, George Clooney, LL Cool J, Brad Pitt, Britney Spears, Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Redford.
How many women do you think Jagger bedded in his prime? His wealth, fame and looks pale in comparison to Tiger's. When Phelps returned from the Olympics, he hit a bong and the strip clubs, bedding strippers, according to gossip magazine testimony, two and three at a time. You think when Phelps finds the love of his life, he'll dial it back and satisfy himself with vanilla sex when his wife decides to give it to him?
That's right. Men who grow up eating at five-star steakhouses often happily learn to love Hamburger Helper five nights a week.
We're outraged and stunned that Tiger has had a dozen alleged affairs. The typical rock or movie star is laughing and/or questioning Tiger's sexuality if the golfer limited himself to a number below 50 since marriage and 500 in his post-puberty lifetime.
The notion that golf, with its history of unapologetic racism and sexism, is somehow filled with men of impeccable integrity is a hysterical lie propagandized by hypocritical white men willing to commit the same crime they charge Tiger and his sponsors pulled off: the upholding of a patently false image.
"You play golf to drink with your boys, smoke cigars and talk about (sex)," former NBA player John Salley told me Wednesday. "And now we're surprised that a golfer was having sex. We think Tiger is the only one. Why are we treating Tiger like he's elected to public office? He plays golf, man."
This column is not meant to excuse Tiger's irresponsible behavior. The column isn't a contradiction of what I wrote when Steve McNair was killed. People have e-mailed me asking what justifies the difference in tone and content of the columns I've written about Woods and McNair.
Murder and suicide. The accusation that McNair maintained a separate home from his wife and kids. And the fact that McNair, for months, manipulated and preyed upon a 19-year-old child who lost her parents, fled a country, moved away from her adopted family at 16, drove while impaired in all likelihood to protect McNair and was incapable of financially supporting herself.
Iceberg Slim showed more compassion for his hos than McNair did to the obviously emotionally and mentally wounded girl who allegedly killed herself and McNair.
Sorry for the digression.
Despite Tiger's web site statement apologizing for "transgressions" that let his family down, I don't know — and neither do you — Tiger and Elin's sexual values.
They would not be America's first adult couple (let alone celebrity couple) to agree that extracurricular sex is acceptable as long it remains non-embarrassing for the other spouse. Since we've legalized assumption, I've chosen to assume Elin's hijacking of Tiger's cell phone and threats to call Jaimee Grubbs were provoked by the National Enquirer or some gossip magazine contacting Tiger, Elin or one of her friends for comment on an upcoming expose about Rachel Uchitel or one of Tiger's bim-hos.
For all we know, his "transgressions" might be the overall sloppiness of his affairs.
Rather than bloviate and hypocritically posture in a column or on TV/radio about non-criminal sex between consenting adults, wouldn't it be wise to examine what Tiger's perceived failure signifies beyond his humanity?
Is the public really served by Rick Reilly sitting on SportsCenter advising Tiger to appear on Oprah, skip the Masters and U.S. Open, prove to Elin and his fans that his marriage is more important than golf, fire his caddy, IMG and anyone Elin doesn't trust, refuse to take money from his sponsors and grant the media in-home interviews?
Is the public really served by Herm Edwards, a defrocked football preacher, sitting on SportsCenter criticizing Tiger's inner circle for failing to properly advise him to avoid extramarital sex?
The naivete of the commentary about Tiger is astounding. I'm a grown man with a weight problem. Does Herm believe none of my friends has said: "Yo, dog, why you gotta get extra cheese and bacon on that Wendy's triple?" Does Herm believe the families of drug abusers cheer on every snort of coke?
Tiger is a grown-ass man with a billion dollars. It's hard to advise a laid-off factory worker. It's more likely that Tiger ignored his inner circle than his inner circle failed to flash warning signs.
Herm — like Reilly, TMZ, US Weekly — is simply feasting on Tiger like a vulture, picking at Tiger's carcass in an attempt to rehabilitate himself. Herm and his agent recognized that commenting on Woods gave Herm a shot at passing himself off as the life/morality-coach alternative to Tony Dungy. Herm was auditioning for the job to "help" Tiger or be Notre Dame's next coach. You think Herm will muster the courage to get preachy on television and offer personal advice to the football coaches and players he knows for a fact are living the same "misguided" life as Tiger Woods?
Reilly's advice was so asinine, contradictory and hey-look-at-me-and-not-Bill Simmons self-serving that it's really unworthy of rebuke. Let me summarize it: "Hey, Tiger, prove you're not fake by doing a bunch of fake (spit) that doesn't fit your personality and invite me over to write about it."
ESPN killed sports journalism. It hired, overpaid and showered our best and brightest with fame, turning many of them into jig-dancing clowns unprepared to insightfully examine the sports world they allegedly cover.
When Ralph Wiley prematurely died, we lost our Hunter S. Thompson, the man who famously chronicled Rock & Roll culture from the inside without passing judgment.
Somehow we think our job is to uphold the myths, protect the squeaky image of the games and trash the competitors whose failings (steroids) show the public what the games truly are (a staged performance for profit).
Let's act like golfers, like the majority of wealthy men, don't know the Rachel Uchitels of the world, don't frequent Las Vegas nightclubs where a pool cabana or table bottle service guarantee a parade of drunken Barbie Dolls looking for Mr. Right Now.
A heterosexual male celebrity athlete/entertainer who likes to socialize faces tremendous pressure from longtime friends and corporate friends to entertain. If the boys are hitting a club, South Beach or Las Vegas, it's Tiger's job to attract the women. This is far more important than Tiger picking up the tab or securing a lady for himself.
"Hook ya boy up!" is the rallying cry of a single man and many men given a weekend pass by their wife or girlfriend.
"I'm happily married and I still go through it now," NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez shared with me Wednesday. "Right or wrong, it's an expectation that guys have, whether it's your teammates or the friends you've had all your life. They want you to go out because they think, 'Man, you know Tony is going to have some girls around.' I've dealt with that pressure and still do to some degree."
This is why I believe some of the un-closeted bim-hos are lying or have been misidentified by the gossip rags. They're throwing women out there and fame-hungry women are volunteering because they know you don't understand the culture. A moderately attractive woman can easily move in a famous man's circle without ever getting close to her target.
That is not written to suggest Tiger is not a womanizer. It's written to provide context. Tiger operates in a cesspool. He's never portrayed himself as a religious holy roller. His values appear, like most, sexular.
There's no reason for surprise about any of this, particularly his choice of conquests.
As far as I know, Tiger grew up on golf courses in suburban Orange County, raised by an African-American, Chinese and Native American father and Thai, Chinese and Dutch mother. That is not the recipe for falling in love with sistas regardless of Tiger's brown skin and full lips.
By profession and diction, the dude would be considered a nerd by most brothers and sisters. Take away his billion dollars and many of the sisters whining that Tiger prefers blondes would continue their search for a tatted-up, corn-rowed, slang-talking real brother.
(If that description doesn't fit you, then don't complain. Destiny's Child sang and sold "Soldier" because somebody was feeling it.)
Tiger's choice in women isn't a statement about how he feels about us (black folks). It's a statement about where and how he grew up.
The reaction to Tiger's preference exposes America's deep-seated racial hang-ups. Black and white people are equally troubled by Tiger's parade of Caucasian conquests. This unrest is fueling much of the media manipulation of and wallowing in this story.
"If Elin was black, this would be a Left Eye-Andre Rison situation and everyone would move on," John Salley cracked.
When I talked with sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards, he addressed the racial dynamic more seriously.
"If Elin were black, this would be on the scale of Mike Tyson and Robin Givens," Dr. Edwards explained. "It would've lasted a while and then it would just go away."
That may sound preposterous to some, but it's not. The media and the public overreact to whatever crimes/unfairness befall an attractive white woman (Natalee Holloway). Jordan, Ali and Magic all managed to play on their black wives without receiving much criticism. Shaquille O'Neal just finished off the remaining credible pieces of his marriage to a black woman by allegedly having an ongoing affair with Gilbert Arenas' fiancee. No one cares. But this brown-skinned golfer is facing ruin because he cheated on his white wife.
"You're getting reverberations of O.J.," Dr. Edwards said. "White America, corporate America feels betrayed. Tiger was accepted and given all the perks and benefits and now they feel betrayed, the same betrayal they felt with O.J. There are some (black) celebrities that get to dip their biscuit in the gravy of corporate America and then there are some that are given their own bowl of gravy. Tiger had rare access. His sponsors choreographed a superhuman image to promote a sport and sell product. They gave him everything except the latitude to exercise his humanity. There are no super humans down here. There's only us, and sometimes we blow it."
The media cries for Woods to publicly handle his private life sound crazy to Dr. Edwards, too.
"My advice to him would be to take off with his family to some remote island for three months or however long it took to get something worked out," Edwards said. "When I came back, I'd go straight to the golf course. When I was asked about my personal problems, I'd say: 'I messed up. I'm still trying to get that right. Let's talk about golf.' If the questions persisted, I'd apologize, put the microphone down and walk away. Anything he has to say should be shared only with his family.
"He shouldn't worry about bouncing all the way back (as an endorsement force)," Edwards continued. "The one thing we know is that when a ball drops from 15 feet when it bounces back up, it's only going to rise to 12 feet."