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Par for the Course: Is Tiger's Bogey Any of Our Business?

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I, for one, am not sure whether I'm more bored or annoyed by all the coverage of the Tiger Woods "scandal," particularly when real news that actually affects people's lives has been crowded out by his high-profile mea culpa. But the incident speaks to a level of deterioration of the media we rely on to keep us informed, which, since the Gary Hart affair and ultimately the Clinton impeachment trial, have become adjuncts to the National Enquirer. (By the way, have you heard that Tiger's wife has shacked up with Elvis? Send the major networks to stake out her house -- or Elvis's grave -- asap!)

I'm shocked -- shocked I say! -- that there's gambling in this establishment. Tiger Woods, one of the richest, most successful sports starts of a generation, apparently used his status and notoriety to unsheathe his putter a bit more widely than his nice-guy, private image suggested, playing more holes than the PGA approved.

What a surprise.

For any student of primate behavior, this isn't exactly news: The primary function of status and power among primate males is to increase access to females. That's the long and the short of it. Blame God, Darwin, the devil -- whoever you want -- but give men power and money and the grass will always look greener on the other side of the fairway, and the caddy will become little more than a cad's accomplice. Read Franz de Waal sometime on primate behavior and this won't be so mysterious.

Nor is it mysterious how this all arose from the standpoint of natural selection. Female primates, you want to have a successful son? Mate with a successful male, and get him to invest some resources in your offspring so they make it to maturity. Your sons will have his genes. And males, you want to have lots of your genes in the gene pool a few hundred thousand years from now? There are many strategies outlined by my colleague David Buss in his various works in evolutionary psychology over the years, but one has been used in many cultures for generations: Stick with one woman for procreation (and for emotional attachment, a need that does not fade with familiarity over years) and have others on the side. The only question is whether your culture supports it, as in much of Western Europe and Latin America, or not, as in the U.S.

Let me be clear. I am not condoning or advocating infidelity. As a clinical psychologist for 25 years, I've seen how destructive it is on individuals, couples, and families. It almost inevitably leads to the question of whether to divorce or to seethe with resentments for years, and it often does tremendous damage to children who have to cope with the question of who their philandering parent really is.

But if it were so easy to be faithful over 50 years of marriage, even for mere mortals (as opposed to golf legends), infidelity wouldn't be as common as fidelity in marriage, and we wouldn't put a specific injunction against it in our wedding vows (some version of "I promise to be faithful, even after the highest dose of Viagra won't do the trick any more"). I've never heard a wedding vow that included, "And I promise not to throw our whining children into a boiling pot of oil" -- because, although parents may have that fleeting thought, it's not something you really have to tell people not to do.

As George Bernard Shaw put it, the chains of matrimony are so heavy that it often takes three to carry them. And add to that lots of travel time on the road staying in lonely hotel rooms, all the money you can ask for, and fame, and the temptations are substantial -- on both sides of the gender divide.

I'm sorry that Tiger's wood got the best of him. I'm very sorry for his wife. But just as Jimmy Carter had it right when he said that an abortion is a matter between a woman, her doctor, and her God, the affair of an athlete is a matter between his penis, his wife, and his corporate sponsors.

Personally, I couldn't care less about Tiger Woods' personal indiscretions, except to the extent that he's been forced to humiliate himself and his family on television. I couldn't care less about which religious tradition he set aside to set aside his wedding vows. It's none of my Buddah-damned business.

And I'm tired of the pseudo-psychological explanations about sex addictions that can be cured with a few weeks of rehab, the same way every politician who gets himself caught diddling with an intern or another man suddenly discovers his inner alcoholic, sexaholic, or whatever he can find a brief course of "rehab" for so he can earn a second chance. Just for the record, you can Google the science behind those "addiction" programs (my personal favorite is the guy who gets caught for dallying with male prostitutes and checks himself into an alcoholic rehab center -- as if getting drunk brings out your inner homosexual), and you won't have an easy time locating it. The whole "sex addiction" literature is a scientific shambles.

I haven't followed Woods' career closely, but I don't remember his ever making public service announcements on abstinence. If he had, this would be a legitimate story (but not an unusual one). If a fundamentalist leader who's been making the lives of gay and lesbian Americans hell with hate speech dripping with contempt masquerading as piety turns out to be visiting gay prostitutes, that's newsworthy. When Mark Sanford ran on family values, that made his little hike on the Appalachian trail newsworthy.

But as far as I'm concerned, I don't know, want to know, or have the right to know anything about the private life of an athlete or even a politician who hasn't made private morality a public issue. If I do have those rights, I want them, too, on every journalist who reports or comments on these stories, because their objectivity could be compromised by their own behavior outside the marital bedroom, and that's something inquiring minds need to know.

My guess is that if we set that standard -- a standard that essentially existed for the first 200 years of our republic -- we'd see a lot fewer rocks thrown from people who live in -- or at least report from -- glass buildings.

Drew Westen, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

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