What is that Tiger Woods said or did that operates as a waiver of his right to keep his personal life personal?
On "Larry King Live" last week, Rick Reilly and Christine Brennan offered the following conclusion: Because Tiger is a well-paid endorser, we have the right to dig, pry, speculate, and watch the potential destruction of a marriage and therefore of a man, a husband, and a father. I get the conclusion; I live it daily with my clients. Nevertheless, I am waiting for someone, anyone, to provide a rationale as to why professional athletes must be subjected to voyeuristic examinations, speculation, and public ridicule when he or she proves, despite their athletic prowess, that they are human.
I was impressed by Jason Whitlock's recent piece on the treatment of Tiger because it did not blindly defend the media's right to know, but it was a little too neat in its conclusion that Christine, Rick and others are attacking Tiger now because Tiger did not speak to them earlier in his career. No doubt Tiger failed to build the same relationship equity with the media that he had with the public -- an odd result given that he was presented to the public through the media -- but it is a little too convenient to conclude that the media frenzy is institutional payback for Tiger's voluntary reticence over the years. Indeed, this would not explain how the media has treated other athletes when their personal tragedies are turned into public scandals.
I respect Christine and Rick and I do not think they are motivated by malice. I believe Christine and Rick and others in the media believe that they have the right to inquire. I just want to know why. If there is a relationship between popularity, much of which is created by the media, and the loss of one's right to enjoy some privacy about the most intimate details of one's life, someone in the media ought to be able to explain the rationale for this phenomenon as opposed to incessantly repeating the conclusion.
We have created a new class of Americans our country called "Athletes." For example, the focus on drug and steroid testing in sports is absurd when you consider that professional athletes are tested more than Supreme Court Justices, Members of Congress, the President of the United States, and other elected officials. Additionally, despite the disproportionately high incidents of substance abuse among health care practitioners and the undeniable potential risks to their patients, there are no uniform workplace testing programs for health care practitioners that are similar to the testing programs in sports. What is it about possessing the elite athletic prowess that justifies treating a man or woman differently from others whose impact on our lives are potentially much more profound?
Should Tiger have acted differently? Absolutely. From his various "transgressions" to the manner in which he dealt with his curious fans and the media, he certainly could have made better choices. However, I am not throwing stones because I am further from perfect than he is. I wish he had done one of two things: Either told us "it's none of your damn business" or stepped up as Ben Roethlisberger did shortly after the vicious allegations of sexual assault were levied against him. Ben, his family, advisors, and I certainly considered and debated these two options. Ben concluded that he wanted to address the false allegations and that he could capture all of his conflicting emotions - anger, resolve, concern for his parents and teammates - and make them work for him to deliver a 10-sentence statement with strength and sincerity. It took us two days to draft the statement and it made a difference.
The question of whether Tiger should have handled the media differently ignores the question of whether the media should have handled itself differently. By virtue of our appearances on CNN last week, have Rick, Christine, and I forfeited our right to keep our private lives private? If not, why not? Is a man or woman who is paid $100,000, $1,000, 000, or $10,000,000 to play a game to be subjected to the same scrutiny as Tiger with his $1,000,000,000 in earnings? If so, why? If not, what is the turning point in the nexus between earnings and the right to have a private life? I am sure that Tiger and many other men and women who are paid to play sports would like to know the answer so they can balance their financial demands with their desire to be human.
The media does a good job of getting answers to the questions it wants to ask. How about they spend some time answering the ones I have asked?