To an Athlete Screwing Up Young

"In every American there is an air of incorrigible innocence, which seems to conceal a diabolical cunning." - A. E. Housman

There is a terminal velocity for any body falling from a great height. The amount of time spent at that speed does not really matter in terms of damage upon impact. Irreparable harm tends to be the consequence regardless of the irresistible force the object eventually encounters. These appear to be the physics of Tiger Wood's recent days.

The world's most famous athlete is probably finished. He is not undone because he can no longer play the game with greatness but because he does not have the personality to accept himself as a lesser being; neither do most of his fans. Golf's demi-god walked to the tee with a stern look that intimidated both the adoring and his competitors and suggested he dare not be disturbed nor questioned. His golf prowess, which was a product of focus and talent, had put him nearly beyond reproach on the course.

But he was also just a man and seems not to have managed that as well as his golf game. The public wrongly assumed that because Tiger was so disciplined in athletics that he was equally principled in his comportment off the course. In fact, the deep and profound anger of Wood's wife Elin appears to come from the evidence that Tiger never behaved as though he were married. His betrayal goes beyond the weak-willed man long separated from his love and turns his bride into a complete fool for assuming she was living the fairy tale of romance, money, glamour, and children. Nothing Tiger might have done could have more deeply harmed his wife because she now sees her entire existence in his world as a fraud. How does he fix that? Who has that much forgiveness?

Tiger's sponsors are presently being circumspect about his endorsements of their products but they will eventually leave. What does it mean now when you are walking through the airport and you see the Accenture poster on the wall that says, "Be a Tiger?" Any sponsor considering hiring him has to wade through the language of every potential ad campaign and parse the words for double entendres. Even the fans assembled around the greens will cause a wince of embarrassment with their consistent shouts of, "Get in the hole!"

The laughter will roll when an analyst says, "Tiger's just played a great round of 72 holes."

The whispering voice answers, "Oh, I think he passed that number a long time ago, David."

The clichéd lexicon of sport is rife with phraseology that is easily misinterpreted and, consequently, embarrassing.

The great athlete has also become publicly associated with porn stars and many years will have to pass before his transgressions have faded into a broad category covered by the human condition. Golf announcers, who are often more sycophantic than critical, can no longer speak of Tiger as though he came from a distant planet to deliver their sport from its overwhelming effete whiteness. If the tabloids and TV are to believed, Tiger's just a party guy, acting like a young man with looks, fame, and unimaginable wealth. Why did any of us, and especially his sponsors, accept and perpetuate the notion that Tiger was beyond mortal? Maybe we aren't all complicit in his failings but we are certainly naïve to create, market, and purchase an image of infallibility.

The stupidity, though, is mostly Tiger's. His behavior appears pathological and suggests he psychologically compartmentalized his world into a road version and a home edition. These were doomed to inevitably collide and leave wreckage and not all of the rubble can be reassembled. His golf career is the most likely fatal casualty. Tiger just does not appear the type to be able to live with the snickers and jokes that will, sadly, never die.

The people who suggest, as did Jack Nicklaus, that this is "none of our business," are terribly mistaken. In fact, Nicklaus is one of the many people who turned Tiger into our business. Nicklaus anointed him as a player with almost inhuman skills. Golf wanted all of us to make Tiger our business because it was good for golf's business. The sports fans are justified in feeling as though they, too, are victims of a betrayal.

Everyone who wants Tiger to sit before cameras and reporters is being foolish. There is nothing left for the man to admit. What does he say?

"Yep, I whored around with porn stars and had group sex when I was on the road but now I'm sorry. I need y'all to give me some privacy so I can get on with my life." (Snicker, snicker.)

Public relations professionals trying to deconstruct Tiger's mishandling of this tragedy are operating under the misguided notion that all screw-ups can be fixed with due honesty. This is fatuous nonsense. Some wounds are fatal and even if they are not time is not a universal cure. Tiger can tell his full story and get everything out there (snicker, snicker) but that will simply complicate the plot in this horror show. We already know too much about his behavior. Accumulated years of details will only do more damage. A part of Tiger's present problem stems from the fact that his great skills were blended with a kind of off-putting arrogance. There are people pleased to see him fall because they respected the talent but disliked the man.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's insistence that there are no second acts in American lives has been proved wrong millions of times. There is no story Americans love more than the battered soul arising from the detritus of failure and struggling on to a glorious comeback. We have, however, never seen anyone fall as far and as fast as Tiger Woods. Therefore, every corporation that is eager to have Tiger associated with its brand, please step forward and be recognized. Any golf announcer interested in following Tiger around the course and ignoring the gallery's jokes, raise your hand. Any ad executives convinced they can deliver a campaign that is devoid of innuendo, please send your copy to editors.

One of the great sadnesses in all of this, of course, is in the harming of charitable efforts by Wood's foundation. He has put some of his money to work helping underprivileged children and his name and face are all any charity once needed to raise money. Perhaps that is where Tiger will find his peace and some redemption. He still has hundreds of millions of dollars to spend and make a meaningful impact and build a legacy that is great enough to overshadow the image we have inadvertently been provided.

Woods has long let it be known that he dreams of the day he will pass Nicklaus as the winner of the most major tournaments and become the game's greatest name. We are no longer likely to see such a victory. Tiger has said he is taking an "indefinite break" from golf but a more realistic statement might have been that he has played his final round as a professional. The chain of disclosures about his behavior may go on for months and the injuries are not ended. But Tiger's career has concluded.

He can now be permanently found at the 19th hole. (Snicker, snicker.)

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