He hasn’t made everyone happy, and he’s never going to answer some burning questions, including what his wife, Elin, was doing with that nine iron when he crashed his car outside his home on Thanksgiving night.
But short of going on Oprah and submitting to a grilling by Dr. Phil, there’s not much more he can do to satisfy the demands of the public to strip himself bare — metaphorically speaking — and do penance for his sins.
It’s all so theatrical and scripted, the spectacle of repentance being played out according to ancient rituals. In the Middle Ages, Woods would have had to dress up in sackcloth and ashes and stand in front of the cathedral in shame. If he were really naughty, he’d have to walk barefoot to Jerusalem and back.
Such displays are necessary. We all know that personal failure is part of life. When it happens, we need rituals for the sinner to follow to return to the good graces of society. Nothing is more dramatic than public penance. It played well with the galleries 1,000 years ago, and it still does.
Some will say that neither Tiger nor Jesse James nor any other celebrity sinner has any obligation to apologize to us. We’re not the ones they hurt, after all. But the truth is that human nature demands it.
But it’s not so much about the apology as it is about the public humilation. We are a forgiving people, but only after the requisite period of groveling.
Tiger began his mandatory groveling when he delivered his 13-minute apology from the headquarters of the PGA Tour. He continued Sunday with his first interviews since the Thanksgiving car accident.
He set five-minute time limits to the interviews, but did not attempt to restrict the questions to pre-approved topics. When a question arose he didn’t want to answer, he said it was private.
It’s doubtful we’ve ever seen any athlete who’s had a higher opinion of himself and a greater sense of entitlement than Tiger Woods. Others may have equaled him, but it would have been impossible to surpass him.
Woods was not the sort of person to admit to failures, flaws or foibles. So for him to stand up and own up to having behaved wretchedly is extraordinary.
“A lot has transpired in my life. A lot of ugly things have happened. ... I’ve done some pretty bad things in my life,” he said in the ESPN interview.
Some critics will complain that Woods didn’t choke up and his eyes remained dry, even when he was talking about how sorry he was for hurting the people he loves the most: his mom and his wife.
But he said the words and he sounds sincere, which is all we can really expect. It’s part of the ritual of public penance, and before you criticize him, think of how difficult it is to stand in front of the world and say, “I’m a louse.”
No one does that unless there’s a really good reason to. And Woods has the best reasons there are: He wants to win his wife back; he wants to win his fans back; he wants to win his corporate sponsors back.
We’re talking about pretty much everything that matters: love, approval and income. Tiger talked about the first two. He didn’t talk about the third.
That shows smarts, too. It’s never cool to talk about money, and that’s one thing Tiger’s never done.
“I was living a life of a lie, I really was. And I was doing a lot of things, like I said, that hurt a lot of people. And stripping away denial and rationalization you start coming to the truth of who you really are and that can be very ugly,” he said. “But then again, when you face it and you start conquering it and you start living up to it, the strength that I feel now ... I've never felt that type of strength."
That may have been the most revealing thing he said. By going through rehab and now this ritual of public penance, he feels that he’s become stronger than he was when he didn’t think he had to answer to anyone.
Whether that translates to the golf course remains to be seen. We’ll start to find out at the Masters, now just three weeks away. By then, it will be time for playing golf and talking about golf. And the better the golf is, the less the public will be interested in his personal life and the progress of his penance.
Tiger knows this because he’s surrounded by people who are paid to point such things out. He knows he has to get back on the golf course and win some tournaments. Otherwise, the Tiger Woods “I’m Sorry Tour” will never end.
And I don’t think any of us want that. To tell you the truth, it’s getting boring aready.
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