Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tiger Digs a Deeper Hole

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Nice try Tiger but it won’t work. Simply gazing into the eye of a lone camera, taking no questions from reporters, and then making a terse plea for privacy, a promise to be a better Tiger, and dropping a hint that he’ll return to golf, won’t buy forgiveness or peace. It will do just the opposite. By saying so little, it still gives the legion of Tiger loathers plenty more ammunition to gossip, speculate, bad mouth and character assassinate. The record of course still reads that the only bodily damage done from his ill fated car crash was to himself, an agreed rupture with his wife, the flight of some top dollar sponsors, and the obliteration of his fraudulent, manufactured Wheaties Box All-American image. The injuries have healed, the wife has split, the sponsors remain in flight, and his made-up image is unsalvageable. But then again, it probably wouldn’t make much difference if Tiger prostrates himself in front of Barbara Walters or Katie Couric with millions watching, flagellates himself with horsehairs, and blabs about every sordid detail in his alleged trail of pay for sex play romps.

It matters little not because a sex, celebrity gossip, rumor and innuendo starved and obsessed mainstream media, and an equally sex, celebrity, rumor and innuendo gossip starved and obsessed public salivates at the prospect of scandal and titillation at the mishaps of celebrities. Nor because his repeated pleading that his personal life is his business, and his alone.

The hole that Tiger dug deeper with his self-interview was dug years ago. The whispers, innuendoes, and back biting began the instant that he exploded on the golf scene. He wasn't black enough. He was too black. He was too arrogant. He was too aloof. He was too selfish. The more Masters Tournament winner’s jackets that he draped on his torso and king’s ransom riches he piled up from tournaments won, the undertow of carping about him roared unabated. There were the personal and race tinged digs and cracks that golfer Fuzzy Zoeller (“fried chicken”) and Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman (“lynch him”) made about him.

Woods graciously and diplomatically shrugged off the inanities and kept doing what he does best and that's win tournaments. It didn't stop the gossip mongers. Woods was simply too big, too good, and too rich for the tastes of a wide swath of the public and the celebrity crazed media.

Despite Woods careful and cautious downplay of race, for another swath of the public he was still a black sports icon who dominated what for decades was a gentlemanly, high brow, near sport of kings, white man's game. The price a black sports icon, even one that flees that straightjacket designation as Woods did, pays for resting on that high perch can be steep. One misstep and he or she can become the instant poster child for all that's allegedly wrong with celebrity, sport and society.
The oft repeated argument in Tiger’s defense is that he didn’t do anything more or less sordid than other celebrated, revered, and just as hypocritical sports icons have done and probably still do, and then tossing out a few names of some big name golfers to prove the point, cuts no ice. They aren’t gatekeepers for the storehouse of fantasies and delusions of a sports crazed public as well as advertisers, sportswriters, and TV executives in desperate need of vicarious escape, titillation, excitement, and profits. Woods was. Many of Woods’ golf competitors, who have demons and goblins in their past and present lives, wasted little time in taking their own pot shots at Woods for supposedly disgracing the game.

Woods got the rap from his golf buddies not because he was golf’s marquee name celebrity. He was also a bigger than life human being to them too. This carries the bigger the life responsibility and the even bigger than life special burden to please all and be all things to all people at all times on and off the links.

It’s not clear why Woods agreed to interview himself at this juncture in his personal and image rehab. It’s unclear whether the idea to face a lone camera was his idea or it was foisted on him by an image remake agency or his handlers. All that counts for the moment is that millions will see Woods’ mug again on their screens. This will be more than enough to set the tongues wagging furiously again. All Woods wants is to get back on the circuit with as little fanfare as possible and to bury the past. The problem is that most of the tongues that will wag about the self-interview won’t have much good to say about him. The moral of all this for Tiger is forget the apologies, just play golf and let it go at that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).

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