Tiger Woods does not owe me an apology. He cheated on his wife, not me. He owes her one hell of an “I’m
sorry.” And he owes an
apology to those sponsors who paid him a lot of money, at least in part,
because of his appealing, family-man image. Still, I fail to see how he has wronged me.
I don’t have the same opinion when it comes to politicians
who are involved in sex scandals.
Elliot Spitzer owes me an apology.
Not because he cheated on his wife—to me that is a purely personal issue
between the two parties in a marriage.
Spitzer owes me an apology because one of the things he told me when he
asked for my vote (which I gladly gave him) was that no one was outside the law
and he would fight for fairness—be it against organized crime or corrupt
corporations. He didn’t mention
that he considered himself above the law.
And if I were a South Carolina voter, Mark Sanford would also owe me an
apology. Again, not because slept with someone other than his wife, but because
he abdicated his responsibilities and disappeared for five days to dance with
Some argue that we (the collective we) gave Tiger a lot of
money by letting corporations know that we admired
and trusted him and would, therefore, buy products that had his stamp of
approval. I appreciate that I am
essentially blaming the victim, but if we based our admiration on anything
other than his extraordinary ability as a golfer, it’s our damn fault. We don’t really know Tiger. We know a brand, an image that a team
of agents, managers, and PR professionals carefully cultivated. If we bought into the image and used it
as a reason to buy watches, cars, or consulting services—really anything other
than golf clubs— that was pretty silly of us. You should buy a razor based on how well it shaves,
not because a guy with a good swing, a pretty wife, and two cute kids uses it
or claims to on TV.
There are others who argue that he, like many athletes, holds
himself up as role model and therefore owes it
to us to conduct himself in ways we would want our children to emulate. I’ve
always questioned whether these athletes ask to be role models or if we foist
it upon them because we’re desperate for people to look up to, but there is no doubt that this image
helps them get both fame and fortune. And it’s true that Tiger has never tried
to disavow us of the idea that he makes a good role model.
Still, I can’t help but go back to the phrase “buyer beware”
and the fact that we don’t know these athletes as people, we only know the
image. It’s certainly fair to
point to Tiger’s performance on the course as an example of how hard work and
perseverance can help you achieve your dreams and be your best (or in his case,
the best). But it’s always risky to point to the
personality and character of a person you’ve never met or hold anyone else’s
marriage up as an example. We just
don’t know what goes on in other people’s houses, relationships, or minds.
I’m just as guilty as anyone else of fueling our
celebrity-obsessed culture —I’ve been a loyal subscriber to People Magazine for years and have been
known to log on to Perez Hilton from time to time. I like reading the puff pieces that show celebrities are
“just like us” because they do their own supermarket shopping and would prefer
to curl up with their dogs and a video than walk the red carpet. I get upset when I learn that celebrity couples who seem
well-adjusted and happy are breaking up — especially the long-term ones like
Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins who seemed to have beaten the Hollywood
odds. But I recognize that these
people are not my friends and that if I look up to them, I should do so only
because I admire their work.
When celebrities behave badly—whether it’s driving drunk,
throwing phones at hotel clerks, or punching photographers—they should be
treated like anyone else. If it’s
illegal, they should pay their debt to society in the same way anyone else
would—a fine, a suspended license, or a jail term.
By that token, Tiger should be treated like anyone else who
cheated on his spouse. We don’t
require John Q. Public to call a press conference of friends and neighbors in
which he admits that he’s been boffing his secretary or worse force him to
enter rehab for some, any, condition,
to prove that he’s really, seriously sorry for cheating on Jane Q. (Whether sex addiction is a legitimate
psychological issue is a subject of debate that was covered well in Anna
Clark’s recent blog. In
Tiger’s case though it seems more like a calculated PR move than anything else;
if he were a single man with the exact same sex life, he’d be considered a stud,
not a sex addict.) No, from John we’d
just expect an apology to his wife, some couples counseling, and most likely a
stern talking to from HR.
So, like anyone else, Tiger should apologize to his wife,
his employers, and possibly his mistresses, but he really doesn’t owe the rest
of us anything.