Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tiger and I are in full agreement: enough is enough; Learning about pre-interviews the hard way

Okay, I’ve had enough.

In fact, I can tell you the exact moment when I knew I’d had enough of ‘Tiger-gate.’ It was last night at halftime of the George Mason-George Washington game, which turned out to be a disappointing blowout because Mason Coach Jim Larranaga suspended two key players after they stole pillows from a hotel last weekend for the plane ride home.


I was sitting with GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz and his wife Janis (one of the world’s great people) and Bob Zurfluh, who has been tournament director for the BB+T Classic (which is this Sunday at Verizon Center) since we first started the event 15 years ago. (I say we because I’m on the board of The Children’s Charities Foundation which has raised about $10 million for kids at risk in the DC area through the BB+T).

We should have been talking about the game, the BB+T, the obvious improvement GW has made this season with a sterling freshman class. Nope. It was all Tiger, all the time. Look, I understand completely. There are two stories dominating the news at all levels right now: Afghanistan and Tiger. For many, it isn’t in that order.

But I’d been talking Tiger almost non-stop, or so it seemed, since last Friday. I’m not complaining: I’ve always said I would rather have too many phone calls to return than no phone calls to return. If I get to go to The Masters every year then this story is part of what I do too. What’s more when there is breaking news I understand that a lot of the shows that call me are the same ones my publicist calls when I have a book out. So I try not to say no to people who have always said yes to me in the past. Nightline doesn’t sell books for me but it is, well, Nightline.

(Let me digress here to tell one story about Nightline because I know I have to get to the Tiger apology eventually. In 1991, just as my tennis book, “Hard Courts,” was coming out Jimmy Connors did me a great favor by getting to the semifinals of the U.S. Open at the age of 39. My media appearances—and the quality of them—soared thanks to Connors and the book was No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list the week after the Open.

I got a call from a Nightline producer. They were going to do a show focusing on tennis and Connors the night before the Open semis if Connors got that far. Would I be interested in being a guest since I’d written the book and Connors had been prominently featured in it? You bet.

On Thursday the producer called to do what’s called a pre-interview. This is one of the most worthless exercises in the history of the world: You answer a bunch of questions on the phone and, almost without fail NOTHING you discuss comes up in the actual interview. But, as I found out the hard way, there’s a reason for them.

The guy asked me this question: Why are people so enamored of Connors who was once one of the real bad boys of tennis? My answer, almost word-for-word, was this: “Because he’s defying mortality. You aren’t supposed to be able to play tennis at this level at 39 and he’s doing it. Who among us can’t identify with the notion of defying mortality?”

The guy thanked me and asked me if I would need a car to get me to the studio. No, I knew where it was I could actually walk there from where I was staying. Fine. The next afternoon the guy called me again: “Well, I’m sorry, you didn’t make the cut,” he said.

“What cut?” I asked.

“Well, you were one of several candidates for the show…”

“Hang on, that’s not what you said to me when you called. You asked if I’d like to be on the show.”

“That’s right. I didn’t say you WOULD be on the show.”

I won’t repeat my response here.

“We decided to go with Robert Lipsyte from the New York Times. We prefer journalists to authors if we have a choice.”

I won’t repeat my response to that either.

It gets better. I guess because I’m a masochist I turned the show on that night. Here’s how Ted Koppel opened the segment: “What James Scott Connors has done these past two weeks at the U.S. Open tennis championships is defy mortality. Who among us can’t identify with that?”

I used to run into Koppel on occasion at a local Italian restaurant near where I live. He and I frequently picked up take-out there on Sunday nights. For years I was tempted to say something but never did. What the heck, he didn’t know the producer stole the line, why bother? But I have never—ever—done a pre-interview since then. And never will.)

Okay, back to Tiger.

There’s no sense rehashing the whole thing here again. The people I feel worst for in all this are his wife and—even more so—his children. When they get older they’re going to know this was something their father did.

Tiger will play great golf again and he’ll still break Jack Nicklaus’s record in majors. The golf media will still fawn on him constantly and his sponsors will, “stick by him,” because they have too much money invested in him to dump him and because they want to be there with new ads trumpeting his redemption when he wins again.

In a sense, this is much like Bill Clinton. When he was finally forced to admit to his involvement with Monica Lewinsky he said he was “sorry but…” Remember him saying that his personal life was no one’s business? Of course it was. He was President of the United States. I really believe that attitude rather than just saying, “I’m sorry,” is the reason the House of Representatives was able to impeach him—he turned a lot of the public, including Democrats like me against him with his attitude.

Today, Bill Clinton gets $250,000 for a speech and is treated with the respect that ex-presidents get when they leave office. He has a presidential library, the whole thing. But Monica Lewinsky will ALWAYS be part of his life’s resume. Her name will always appear in his biography.

Tiger isn’t the President and he’s not going to be impeached. He’ll continue to make millions and win golf tournaments. But, as with Clinton, this will be on his life’s resume. He did the same thing yesterday that Clinton did eleven years ago—“I’m sorry, but…”

In this case the but-line made the media the fall guy—what a surprise. It reminded me a little of the old Peanuts cartoon in which Peppermint Patty is asked by the teacher why she didn’t do her homework. “Well,” she says. I spent some time watching TV…I read a magazine…Then there was something on the radio…I BLAME THE MEDIA!”

That was Tiger yesterday: I let my family down, I acted badly, I’m very sorry…I BLAME THE MEDIA!”

Oh well, it’s the way of the world.

The good news—I sincerely hope—is that we can now move on. Tiger can go into character-rehab mode along with his spinners and sponsors. There will still be some dirt on the internet or in the tabloids and there will be LOTS more jokes. But it won’t be on the front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post and my phone will probably stop ringing after today. (That’s me being selfish, yes).

It will crop up again when Tiger plays next—probably San Diego unless he decides to delay the start of his season until Florida—but it isn’t going to be THE subject everyone is talking about.

This is one time when Tiger and I are in full agreement: enough is enough. He messed up and he’s going to pay a big price. As I said to a friend at Golf Channel yesterday, “tell everybody on air to stop looking like they’re covering a funeral. Nobody died.”

Of course I wasn’t completely right about that. No one died but something did die: Tiger’s carefully crafted image. That’s gone forever.


Anonymous said...

I thought you are BOTH a journalist and an author? I'd have liked to be a fly on the wall in hearing those expletives. He offered car service when it wasn't guaranteed? Strange.

Ed from Bethesda said...

Here is an angle I have not heard discussed, the AT&T Tournament scheduled to return to Congo in a few years. How welcome will the membership be to hosting this event in the future now that its star has been humbled in such a public manor? The star power this event enjoyed for the last three years with participation by the military, former presidents and other notables will be diminishd. Too bad!

Mr. X said...

Speaking of your home course, John, when Tiger turns in from River Road, will it be called Transgressional?

Gordon said...

First Bill Clinton WAS NOT impeached because of Monica Lewinsky. He was impeached because he lied under under oath. Amazingly he was not disbarred.

As for Tiger one the reasons that this story grows rather than dies is that one simple thing has been lost. THE TRUTH. He can say or not say whatever he wants. However when everyone knows what he is saying is at the very least disingenuous and at the most out right lies, it fuels the story to a higher level.

It's hard to believe that a guy who played 91 holes of the US Open one one leg can't even show up at his own event with a few cuts and scraps.

Nice that Jesper has already thrown Eldrick under the buss.

Anonymous said...

the Ted Koppel story was the best part!!

Mike M. said...

I always read how sorry these stars are for hurting their spouses, family, etc. When you stray once, a weak moment. when it goes on repeatedly over months, it becomes a load of baloney. He is only sorry he got caught. To Tiger, quite simply, it's all about Tiger.

Anonymous said...

Had you heard "enough" before or after you went on Golf Channel and demanded that Tiger show you his balls?

The Tinamou said...

Sad story. Seen it before of course, Honeymoon Stroke-play ends, marital matchplay begins. The rules change, everything bugs ya, nothing's conceded, inexplicable momentum shifts to endure. Takes real work.

So while Elin's dealing with her pregnancies, a Vegas waitress, the proverbial "dreaded other" becomes chronically irrisistible? To the most disciplined athlete of the post-modern era?

Tell you what, Earl would freak - all that time teaching Tiger the importance of never getting caught. He didn't anticipate technology, I guess. Even Gandhi might've had an accidental fart captured on Youtube these days...

"I got stuck" How prophetic.

bevo said...

Why do you feel sorry for Elin? Marriage is a partnership. If she was taking care of business in her partnership, then he does not stray.

It is also possible that their marriage had a certain amount of give and take.

You do not know what the terms of the partnership is. Before you say you feel sorry for her, find out what the nature of the marriage is or was.

As to her renegotiating the pre-nup, good luck with that. You signed the contract. You live with it.

That's right. To collect your payoff, you have to stay with the guy for another 5 years.

Anonymous said...

John, do you ever criticize the media? I like your blog, but it has a bit of a ticked off tone sometimes and a defend the media/criticize the athlete sentiment...

johnjones said...

Tremendous truth in what you write - Was your indescretion an attempt to defy mortality? "The people I feel worst for in all of this are your wife - and even more so - your children. When they get older they're going to know this was something their father did." What a legacy to leave to your children! They must be so proud of their pathetic, selfish dad.

Vince Spence said...

I hope Congressional Country Club bans Ed from Bethesda from ever entering their gates for calling it Congo.

Congo? Columgo? Chevy Chasgo?

I love that private country club speak. I've only been a member of one for 30 years. When do I get to call one the most prestigious clubs and golf courses in America Congo?

Ed. Try Rattlewood further north in MontCo. Hey, I'm getting the hang of this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Who is this butthead "bevo?" Stevie Williams? Yea, his wife made him do it! Bevo must be trying out for Team Tiger!

The word for his image is simply diminished. So he breaks Jack Nicklaus' record for majors, but he's not half the man the Golden Bear was and is. What does he tell all those kids he supports through his Foundation? Sorry, do as I say not as I do.

There is hope however. Maybe he gets a dose of humility for his arrogance. Maybe he becomes a real person and joins the human race!

neil said...

tiger tiger burning bright
clandestine affairs left and right
skanks and shanks the hazards mount
jokes and jibes too many to count
redemption just a major away
peccadilloes fading day by day
but tiger must watch his step
least another scandal dent the rep
and sink the brand
now not so grand
no major win
can erase that sin

n. feinstein