A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
The truest measure of off the charts super-stardom is to be known by an iconic name or nickname, a singular descriptive that defines not only a person, but a persona.
Tiger is a nickname, bestowed upon a young Eldrick Woods by his father in tribute to a Vietnam comrade. It is now synonymous with an almost carnivorous competitive fire which, in combination with his other-worldly talent, has placed him on the dizzying summit of being the first BILLION DOLLAR athlete.
In my lifetime the list of super-novas so identified is a short one: Magic, The Great One, Michael, The Golden Bear..........individuals who did not just play their sport at unprecedented levels, but men who became icons of the popular culture; figures and images woven into the daily milieu of our lives. Somewhere in the last ten years, as we witnessed achievement after Olympian achievement, Tiger morphed from gifted athlete, to walking conglomerate, to cultural icon, to quite literally, a branded product. He scaled this summit via a three-legged ascent; the fully unleashed power of our visually driven, Internet based media, his staggeringly brilliant talent, and the reality that he plays a game where success is attributable solely to himself.
Were it not for the howitzer leg of Adam Viniaterri and a Sphynx-like defense, Tom Brady would be just another one ring quarterback. If Steve Kerr and John Paxson miss those buzzer-beating shots; Jordan's legacy is halved. And as breathtaking as Gretzky was in establishing himself as the greatest performer in the history of team sports, he had Grant Fuhr and Jari Curry and Mark Messier . Only Muhammed Ali - The Greatest - achieved what Tiger has. He had no teammates - no one to look to when he raised himself off that stool in the outdoor sauna that was Manila. There was only the repository of his own soul from which to summon the courage to face the thunderbolts of Joe Frazier's fists.
The same is true of Tiger. He is alone as he stares down the flags on Sunday, first imagining then executing those draw-droppingly exquisite shots that have propelled him to Olympus. At times it seems he has simply willed the ball into the hole; his will an almost visibly tangible force chronicled by the thirsty cameras of ESPN.
The ancient Greeks would have understood better than we what has happened; in fact, they would have anticipated it. They understood that no matter how high a man soars he is still a man. The Greeks wrote the story of Tiger when they told us of Icarus, who in his primal and exultant arrogance, flew too close to the sun, melted the wax of his wings, and plunged to his death. They understood what Heraclitus wrote - that "a man's character is a man's fate".
Gifts unimaginable were lavished upon him. A super-abundance of athletic talent, a tungsten-tipped will forged on the anvil of his father's tutelage, and the ability to articulately present himself to a world whose appetite for his feats was insatiable. From these gifts sprang wealth, fame, and all but unlimited power as princes, potentates, and the gliteratti of an entire planet fawned over and feted him.
But the Greeks also understood that their gods were jealous deities, and would suffer no rivals. And so they would have known that the same gods who steered his ball into the hole on Augusta National's 16th green would one day decree, "it is time to balance the scales".
How could a man of Tiger's intelligence be seduced into believing his "transgressions" would remain private? Where was that trusted friend or counselor who, as Nathan did to David, could say to the King, "Sire - you have done great wrong". The Greeks again provided the answer - the ancient and foundational flaw of hubris; a belief that he was invincible. Others had been caught in this trap perhaps but not me, Tiger may have thought. Such things happen only to mortals, for as the Nike campaign once proclaimed to the world, "I am Tiger Woods". When a man makes such a sweeping proclamation - he invites the scrutiny of the gods.
Who then - the ancients would ask us - who can drink of such heady wine and remain unaffected?
While it is right to condemn his actions, I level no personal judgment against him. Could I walk the gauntlet of such temptation and remain true? Could you? I welcome his decision to postpone play in order to pursue what might prove his greatest and most unlikely victory - the redemption of his marriage and his family. And what of his wife - that pale and lovely figure all but unknown to us? Through no fault of her own she now must navigate the maelstrom. And his infant children - those adorables who know nothing of El Tigre - only of Daddy. Our hearts melt for them as they sense the seismic disturbance in their world.
Two words will determine whether or not he is successful - two decisions taken or withheld. And to a man who has wielded Cyborg-like control over every aspect of his life now comes the humbling realization that he cannot dictate or control the events that will define his future. He is now in that most terrifying of places for him - utter dependence on the actions and decisions of another.
Two words - repentance and forgiveness.
Can he attain and present to Elin Woods sincere and true repentance? We shall never know, for it is not given to us to see into the heart of a man. Only she will measure that repentance and judge its sincerity.
And it lies with her to as to whether or not forgiveness of his monstrous betrayal can be offered; forgiveness made immeasurably more difficult by the reality of the entire world's knowledge of these tawdry events. His repentance is the easier and certainly the more natural act. But sincere repentance comes hard for us all, much less for those chosen few who have walked the Fields of Elysium. And sincere, unfettered forgiveness of such painful and public betrayal? Well - it is an act of such purity as to require a spark of divinity.
And so we await the third and fourth acts of this morality play. We wait to see if Tiger is Oedipus or Odysseus.
We wait to see if true repentance is proferred - and if forgiveness is granted.
Repentance and forgiveness...........................
Sounds like a Christmas story.