Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tiger, Tiger, burning

Just when you think the last shoe’s dropped in the Tiger Woods debacle, there’s another major sponsor heard from. Today, one week after Tiger Woods went before the cameras in his first appearance since his toweringly compartmentalized life exploded last Thanksgiving, Gatorade officially dropped Woods as a spokesman for its line of electrolyte replacement beverages.

“We no longer see a role for Tiger in our marketing efforts and have ended our relationship," a Gatorade spokeswoman said, according to The Associated Press. "We wish him all the best."

John_spray tweeted later in the day: “It woulda been weird to hear him say their slogan, "Is It In You?"

The Gatorade defection and its fallout were what the world’s greatest golfer must surely hope is the endgame to a sordid period and, sure as hell, the sand trap of his biography. But some have said that with last Friday’s mea culpa, he may have made things worse. Which raises the question of what more he’s expected to do relative to other misbehavers in the public square.

Tiger’s phenomenal success in the world of golf, and his unprecedented reach into the sport’s folklore as an African American, has always made him a target and the object of ridicule in some corners. For black Americans, his willingness to equate his black heritage with the other ancestries that form his DNA has always been a sore spot, for whatever emotional reason. And for others, for Americans in general, the behind-the-hand attitude toward Tiger was just the boilerplate schadenfreude that the small-minded regularly impose on those more talented than they are.

So people had the long knives out when he stepped to the podium and apologized, again.
“I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.

I know people want to find out how I could be so selfish and so foolish. People want to know how I could have done these things to my wife, Elin, and to my children. And while I have always tried to be a private person, there are some things I want to say.

Elin and I have started the process of discussing the damage caused by my behavior. As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words; it will come from my behavior over time. We have a lot to discuss; however, what we say to each other will remain between the two of us.

I am also aware of the pain my behavior has caused to those of you in this room. I have let you down, and I have let down my fans. For many of you, especially my friends, my behavior has been a personal disappointment. To those of you who work for me, I have let you down personally and professionally. ...

“I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.

“I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have to go far to find them.

“I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me.”
He was nervous, he was clipped, he was wooden; in a way, regardless of what he said, you can see why Gatorade cut him loose; it was the way he said it, furtive and edgy, eyes not focused, inner turmoil still obvious. It’s been reported that Tiger spoke with President Obama before his statement. If the president offered Tiger any talking points about talking, the golfer didn’t take his advice.

Some of the fallout has been pretty much predictable.

“I’ll be holding a press conference later today to express my regret at not having sex with many, many beautiful women,” tweeted Michael Ian Black.

“Today is the birthday of Copernicus. The first man to prove the world does not revolve round Tiger Woods. Happy Birthday Copey,” tweeted twitwit Craig Ferguson.

Jimmy Kimmel was merciless on ABC late-night, doing a takeoff on Tiger’s situation with a white tiger apologizing for eating Roy (of Siegfried & Roy).

Joslyn James, one of Tiger’s mistresses, sat crying shortly after watching Tiger speak, demanding that Tiger should personally apologize to her. Gloria Allred’s handkerchief slowly enters frame.

What’s more than a little disturbing at this point is the imprecision of the metrics by which we measure the sincerity of Tiger’s contrition, and therefore the metrics we’ll use to accept that contrition. That yardstick of tolerance is too elastic; seems there’s no standard, there’s no goal line. You get the feeling Tiger Woods could step to the podium once a month for a year, and there’d still always be something else demanded from him.

And the focus on Tiger, which both the facts and the culture demand, sidesteps the other players in this mess.

Tiger didn’t grab these women by the hair and throw them into the Escalade. They went willingly, they went with opportunistic forethought, visions of high life and dollar signs dancing in their hennaed heads. To broadly characterize these women as susceptible, gullible pawns thrusts a victimhood onto women collectively, and trades the factors of choice and personal responsibility for a default assumption of gullibility that, I'd say with confidence, most women in this country would reject out of hand.

◊ ◊ ◊

The building notion that Tiger should continue apologizing is problematic at a lot of levels. It suggests that we as a society don’t take him seriously, and it strongly suggests that we don’t take the very idea of apology seriously. Calls for more and more pounds of Tiger’s flesh short-circuit the relationship between apology and corrective action; they lock the accused into a holding pattern of endless apologies, none of which is ever considered enough.

Is it racial? That’s part of it, naturally. African Americans, and minorities generally have been subject to a kind of reductive physics in American life, expending more energy to achieve the same result. But the knives arrayed against Tiger have to do with the adoration of celebrity and those subject to its consequences at this time in the national life, regardless of race, color or creed. In an economy that’s never been this bad no matter how old you are reading this, there’s more malicious delight than usual right now in seeing the lifestyles of the rich and famous run aground in the driveway. For everyday people these days, rich people are a target of opportunity.

The damage done to Tiger Woods’ reputation and his status as a role model will be, in many ways, a permanent thing. Tiger knows he’ll be subject, one way or another, to the sideways stinkeye for the rest of his life. Those whispers, those snickers will always be there. But you watch: those corporate sponsors who sprinted away will wander back into the fold when the heat’s off and he’s got another Masters under his belt.

When those sponsors start drifting back in his direction, they’ll be ready to “move on.” And because they won’t drift back until there’s improvement in the national economy and the marketing-weather forecast for Tiger Woods ... when that happens, for everyone ... we’ll be ready to move on too. Watch and see.

We’re a judgmental nation. Fortunately, we’re also usually a forgetful one.

Image credits: Tiger Woods: pool image from speech. Joslyn James and Gloria Allred: Reuters.

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