Over the past several weeks we've all read hundreds of articles about how this Tiger has lost his stripes. Many speculate as to his egocentricity, infidelity, taste, athletic prowess, and, quite possibly, his stupidity. This morning Tiger said that "everyone... has good reason to be critical of me." Despite the above, and especially after this morning's apology, Tiger is in need of an encouraging word. Like sportswriter Joe Posnanski, I only wish I knew what it was.
Rene Hoyo, an avid Woods fan from Long Beach, CA argues that Woods-gate is more about us than it is about Mr. Woods, his family and his foibles. Rene asks, "why are we more enraptured by this story than we seem to be by discussions of the global economy, climate change, terrorism and health care? What does it all mean?" Mainly, it means that we all might be suffering from psychologial egoism--being motivated by self-interest--and that our society needs drastic reprioritization. Given pessimism about such change we can evision two scenarios playing out simultaneously.
Let's call Scenario 1 "Shallow Shame and Judgment": Tiger says, "For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology." This means that Tiger has not lived up to the meanings we've attributed to his "squeaky clean" and public image of perfect control. Tiger needs to admit what he's done and take the blame for it. Tiger needs to apologize. Tiger needs to lose his endorsements. Tiger needs to go to rehab. Tiger needs to amend his pre- and post-nups. Tiger needs to pay these women to be quiet. Tiger needs to take a break from golf, from women and from the public eye. Tiger needs to make a great comeback. To quote Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, "The only thing we love more than scandal is redemption. So Tiger, what you did was terrible. But the 90% is really all about what you do next."
Let's call Scenario 2 "Keeping it Real." Tiger says, "I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone." Then we ask ourselves whether it's really just for audiences to demand anything from Tiger off of the golf course. For what, exactly, does he need to apologize to fans? How has he violated your trust or mine? His status as professional golfer doesn't make him a role model, does it? Those of us who are fans of his athleticism should be able to separate the personal and professional, the private and public. But we seem unable to do so. Ayishsah Williams, a mother from Long Beach, CA, tried to explain this today to her 6-year-old son who idolizes Woods. "He hits the golf ball perfectly," Williams's son says, "so why isn't he perfect in other aspects of his life?" Williams told her son that people can be different from our perceptions of them. Nat Saldivar, a sociology student in Los Angeles, CA thinks "it's because we'd rather focus on Tiger's misery than our own. Perhaps Tiger could find the time and space to heal if we all took some time to clean out our own closets before delving further into his."
There's also the theory that Tiger is struggling with an identity crisis. In today's apology he admitted that there's good reason "to question who I am and how I could've done these things." It's hard to forget his 1997 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where he coined "Cablinasian"--an abbreviation that connects his multiracial Caucasian, Black, Indian, and Asian backgrounds--as a viable racial identity. This caused quite the press storm, especially in light of the upcoming "Check All That Apply" 2000 U. S. Census, and was therefore received divergently. Some, like Gary Kamiya of Salon.Com, claimed that Woods's self-identification pointed the way toward a post-racial future. Others, like Jesse Washington of the Associated Press who still adhere to the logic of the antiquated "one drop rule," wanted to boil Tiger's identity down simply to black. We can see this treatment with regard to the present scandal as companies like Accenture and Gatorade have dropped Tiger like hotcakes. According to Dr. Ulli Ryder, Professor at Brown University's Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, "as rumors continue to fly that Tiger has impregnated at least one of his mistresses, we will also be witness to new examples of illicit interracial relations in the media. Despite Tiger's best efforts, the racial choice still seems to be black or unraced. Apparently, the multiracial chic of Vin Diesel, Jessica Alba and Dwayne Johnson isn't an option for those who behave badly."
What does this mean for Tiger's children? What does this mean for the status of those who've identified with Tiger and as mixed race? As someone who has engaged struggles with multiracial identity over the years, and as someone of Tiger's generation, I can say undoubtedly that this kind of identity crisis...of being a racial unknown and therefore a social and political unknown...has profound effects on other aspects of life. In other words, it's not surprising that we're seeing trends in what we think about who Tiger finds physically attractive, the faith and values he holds, the products with which he affiliates and the recreational activities and hobbies in which he engages.
In the final analysis I think Tiger is not unlike any of us. Honestly, aren't we all thirsting for something larger than money, golf, sex, success or even global super-celebrity can offer? To wax poetic about it, I think Tiger is looking for the kind of thirst-quenching water that will satisfy him so he'll never thirst again. Indeed, the kind of water that will become a spring in him that wells up to something that will stand the test of time. Perhaps Tiger will find this water so he won't get thirsty and have to keep searching in empty wells to draw it out. Perhaps, by searching humbly within and by keeping it real, the rest of us can find our water too.
Dear Tiger, I hope you find your water. I hope you quench your thirst. I wish you the best of luck on your way.
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