A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
In December I wrote of the episode of Tiger Woods in a post entitled Tiger and Elin - A Christmas Story; it appears in the column immediately to the right. In that article I drew heavily upon the imagery and content of Greek mythology, and at its end noted, "we await the third and fourth act of this morality play. We wait to see if Tiger is Oedipus or Odysseus".
Tiger Woods' address on February 19 was the third act of the morality play. There can be no question that the entire matter was managed. He spoke before a hand-picked, friendly audience. He took no questions. It was held at one of his sport's inner sanctums, with blue curtains, and warm, inviting colors. It was staged. But the first thought I had was how different his face looked. Gone was the imperious, Rushmore-like edifice carved into the rock of his persona. I was instantly reminded of how O.J. Simpson looked when first apprehended. I don't believe any pancake make-up or ginned-up sentiment can achieve that. He looked more than humbled or chastened. He looked hollowed.
Is he sincere? Does he feel true contrition or does he just want his standing and his children back? Should Elin take him back? Opinions raged last weekend, but the reality is we don't know and we can't answer. But I want to consider other dynamics that this situation presents. Here are the primary takeaways from his address:
>He unequivocally identified that he was to blame for his behavior, and accepted sole and complete responsibility for it. No rationalization - no tawdry tale of emotionalized clap-trap that we have come to expect from our fallen politicos. Only the definition, recognition, and acceptance of responsibility. While it may have been the obvious move it was no less important because of that.
>He acknolwedged that he had reached a state of self-rationalized deception where he believed he was "entitled". He admitted thinking that "the rules didn't apply to me". He admitted reaching a state of emotional and mental superiority that again, our fallen politicos are never able to publicly confess.
>He acknowledged the public's interest in what was happening between himself and Elin, but staunchly proclaimed his intention to keep the intimate content of their relationship between themselves. BRAVO! Whatever happens with their marriage - whether it continues or dissolves; it appears there will be no relational freak show visited upon our already overly titillated senses.
>He gave us an insight into his wife's simple wisdom and tungsten character with the comment that, "Elin told me that my real apology would not be in words, but in the content of my behavior over time". BRAVO AGAIN! If we can take this to be illustrative of her character and wisdom, then I judge them to be even greater than her quiet beauty and strength. She told the mighty Tiger what Rachel Dawes told Bruce Wayne, that "it is not who you think you are underneath. It is what you DO that defines you".
I know - it was just a well-rehearsed, scripted talk. No matter how proper the words they are in the final analysis, only that. If not followed by the proper conduct they will only serve to dig his reputational grave even deeper, and they certainly do not "wipe clean" the enormity of his wrong doing. But it would seem he is intent upon winning back his wife, his family, and his place, for if his sole objective was a return to The Tour and the amassing of additional trophies, he could be doing just that. Regardless, it is not given to us to see into the heart of a man, and we will never know if his motivation is contritionally legitimate, or selfishly base. That is for Elin to judge.
But here is the angle I want to consider. Should we dismiss this as just another celebrity crack-up played out before our world-weary eyes? Or - can we imagine for a moment the possibiity of Tiger harnessing his physical behavior, steadying his emotional state, and righting his marital ship.........Imagine if they can bequeth the example of such conduct to a society that no longer believes it important, much less possible. If so, he will have present an accomplishment far greater and infintiely more worthwhile than winning ANY number of Major Championships.
And what of Elin? Tiger said of her, "Elin deserves to be praised - not criticized". I could not agree more and we have only to look to her conduct to understand why. Though suffering monstrous wrong and humiliation, how has she responded? She has withdrawn herself completely from the stage and steadfastly maintained the dignity of silence. She has refused the gin-milled maw of hype and retribution, instead, protecting herself and her children. Compare her conduct to the reactions of most jilted Hollywood or reality TV wives who, scorned and enraged, cannot grab the lawyers and the headlines fast enough. If the Nordic princess can set aside her humiliation and hurt to accurately discern whether or not Tiger is sincere............if for the sake of her marriage and her children she can summon the grace to display forgiveness, endurance, and marital continuity; she will forever outshine ANY accomplishment of her husband's, and be deserving of greater laud than he has ever heard or imagined. I only speak to the possibility of a significant cultural dynamic. Whether or not she SHOULD do this is not for us to say. That is her decision.
As for me - I care not a fig whether Tiger ever plays or wins again, but I will be rooting for them both OFF the course. I will be doing so for their own sake, for the sake of those two adorable children, and for the sake of a society that is, quite literally, STARVED for an example such as they might provide.
In the pages of Homer's The Odyssey we see Odysseus endure war, wanderings, and hardships unimaginable, all so that he might return to the halls of his ancestral home and reclaim the rights of his title, his house, and his beloved wife Penelope; she who for years had maintained her fidelity and resisted the pursuit of lesser men. At the climax of the epic tale she took her husband's mighty bow from its rack and laid it before those men declaring, "whomever amongst you can bend this bow, and shoot its bronzed arrow through the back of the twelve axe handles, shall have me, this house, and all that is in it".
All tried - none succeeded. None but the lowly beggar in the courtyard who was in fact the triumphantly returned but disguised hero. To the amazement of all who watched, he picked up the bow, bent it to his will, and executed the shot that he alone could perform. We don't know if Tiger can or will do this. Like Odysseus, Tiger heard the call of the Sirens. But unlike the mythic figure, he lacked the self-knowledge and control to lash himself to the mast of his ship so as to avoid their temptations. He has publicly stated his intentions to do so in the future, and we shall see if he can forge the relational ties that bind him to the mast.
Why will I root for them? Living in the crucible of unimaginable scrutiny, they have walked through fires unkown to us. But the mythological gods of Olympus who so capriciously intervened in the affairs of humanity, now also give them a priceless opportunity. They have a chance to show our society thousands of years after Homer, the inherent VALUE and WORTH of such a story.
For time immemoriam, scoieties have woven the moral and ethical fabric of their cultures through the vehicle of stories that illustrate their lives, their challenges, and their decisions. The American Indians did so in order to immortalize Tecumseh, their greatest Chief. The Greeks wrote the stories of Oedipus and Icarus to tell the consequences of the darker side of human nature. Conversely, they wrote the stories of Theseus and Prometheus and Odysseus to illustrate to their culture the value of such men's conduct. They told such stories through the edifice of institutions such as their public square, their academies, and their theaters, and it was in the content of such stories that the seeds of their culture and their democratic society were sewn.
Tiger and Elin might tell anew the story of Odysseus and Penelope; a story we need to hear and that our kids need to hear. Such stories have been all but removed from their lives; replaced by an onslaught of technology and a menu of post-modern pablum that has little value or nourishment. But here in this visual, Internet-driven age, is a chance for our youth to SEE the story played out, and THAT is why I will be rooting for them. Regardless of how the fourth and final act plays out, whether it ends in an epic reconciliation or in the flaming conflagration of mega-celebrity divorce; Barb and I will discuss it with our kids. Like the Greeks did, we will use this story of a great man's fall and possible reinstatement to help them measure and then make their own choices.
Tiger's talk was in the end just that - a talk. But if his sincerity is real and his comittment sufficient such that his future behavior matches his words, then in time it will prove to be far more than that.
In time it may be the vehicle to which I point and tell my kids, "that's when Tiger bent his bow".