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.