06/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tiger Woods, Can Athletic Figures Be Role Models?

Tiger Woods is returning to professional golf this week. The Masters will be the first tournament for the disgraced 14-time major champ.

Tiger last played competitively more than four-and-a-half months ago. Less than two weeks later his life unraveled. He first crashed his car into a tree in early morning when pulling out of his driveway. That led to 17 women reportedly revealing affairs with the married father of two. The world's richest athlete subsequently lost three of his sponsors. He spent six weeks in sex rehab. He then publicly apologized in late February.

Tiger is expectedly returning in time for Augusta. As a pro, he's never missed the year's first major. It's also a private course and a tightly controlled event. One that is strictly limiting access to the media.

Tiger has missed more than half of the last fifteen months of the PGA tour schedule. Between ACL surgery and the self-imposed exile, he's been away from the game for long stretches.

While questions may now surround Tiger's sustaining talent, the questions surrounding his character have been answered. After all, this is someone whose lawyers got a court order preventing the release of any nude photos or pornographic videos of him (implying such material may have been in the hands of his mistresses). This is someone who has been paid 100 million dollars a year to publicly endorse companies yet has only given two short five minute interviews about the most publicized event of his life.

To be fair, the professional and personal lives are polar opposites of each other for many successful athletic figures. Muhammad Ali, Kobe Bryant, David Beckham -- they've all cheated on their wives.

But Tiger was supposed to be different. A Stanford-educated, charitable man, playing one of sport's most sophisticated games.

Instead, the man who helped make his sport more racially inclusive, only carelessly reinforced the unfair stereotype that the athletic figures children admire are incapable of being role models.

Graham Bensinger is a sports reporter and radio talk show host. His website is Email Graham at: