Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekend reaction - talking about the commentary on, and my experience of, Tiger Woods

I feel torn this morning because there is a lot of cool stuff to write about: Bode Miller’s redemption and his remarkable slalom run yesterday—which I still haven’t seen because every single time I try to turn on NBC they are showing figure skating. I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME. There’s also the U.S.’s stunning hockey win over Canada—which you COULD watch on MSNBC while the dopey ice dancing was going on. Two months ago, George McPhee, the general manager of The Washington Capitals told me he thought the U.S. had a chance in Vancouver for one reason: Ryan Miller. So far he looks pretty smart.

(Note to anyone who is going to get offended because I think figure skating is ridiculous: I’m NOT saying the skaters aren’t remarkable athletes. But so are ballet dancers and I don’t think ballet dancing should be an Olympic sport either. Enough about that.)

There is also plenty of college hoops to talk about right now with Selection Sunday—perhaps the last one that will really matter if the NCAA goes Dialing for Dollars this summer as I suspect it will—less than three weeks away.

But I can’t seem to escape Tiger Woods. The more times I see a replay of the farce he staged on Friday and then hear people self-righteously defending him, I get a little bit angrier although perhaps not as angry as the poster who ripped me on Friday for being willing to write all about John Daly’s genitals in a book and then for criticizing Tiger. Thanks to whomever posted right below her and pointed out that RICK REILLY wrote that book. How do you confuse me with Rick Reilly? What are the chances I’d ever be caught dead wearing a white suit? Or any suit for that matter.

Here’s what I find most interesting about the various commentaries I’ve seen, heard and read since Friday. Most of those who have actually spent time around Tiger—notice I didn’t say KNOW Tiger because I agree with my friend Sally Jenkins who wrote that Tiger won’t let anyone really know him—saw what took place on Friday as a performance. I’m not just talking about the fact that the whole thing had clearly been rehearsed and the fact that he literally READ the words, “Good morning.”

I’m not even talking about the ridiculous scene we saw with Tiger’s “friends and colleagues,” (many of whom are his employees) sitting up straight in their chairs at rapt attention as if the President was addressing the nation in the midst of some kind of crisis. I’m surprised they didn’t all stand when Tiger entered and exited the room.

I’m not even talking about his refusal to answer questions and the comic attempt by his agent Mark Steinberg to handpick a group of reporters to be “allowed,” to sit in the room at the feet of The Great Man.

What made this so clearly a performance is something raised by the Tiger-defenders: “He doesn’t have to apologize to anyone except his family,” is a bleat I’ve heard repeated often—especially on ESPN where I wonder if the Bristol Boys are writing the same script for everyone in the desperate hope that Tiger will grant them (pant-pant) a sit-down with one of their softball questioners in the future. (Stephen A. Smith was the notable exception but he’s no longer a rising star at the network and they can just tell Team Tiger, ‘we didn’t know he was going to, you know, tell the truth. We apologize’).

Okay then folks, if he didn’t need to apologize to anyone but his family what was he doing out there apologizing to anyone and everyone including all the children in the world? Here’s the answer: This was step one, not of the 12 steps to recovery for addicts, but in the however-many-steps-it-takes to recovery for fallen icons. Tiger wants his sponsors back—or new sponsors to take their place. He wants to be beloved again. He wants people to think he’s “changed.” What he was doing Friday is no different than a beer company ad that urges you to “drink responsibly,” after pitching its product. Tiger wants people to think he CARES about them now.

Look, I know a lot of you will say I just don’t like Tiger. In truth, I don’t know him well enough to like or dislike him. I’m awed by his talent as a golfer and I’m always disappointed when I watch him blow off kids asking for autographs and I think he’s disdainful of most people. I think he’s smart as hell and I see his arrogance as one of the reasons he’s the golfer that he is. I agree with people who say that if he’d ever let his guard down he’d probably be a good guy to have a beer with. I also think—as I have always thought—that he’s been a victim of his father, not a product of his father, for a long, long time. The fact that I’ve written that and said that since he first came on tour is a major reason why Tiger doesn’t like ME. Which is fine. Lots of people don’t like me. It comes with the job.

But the notion that I sit back and lob bombs at Tiger or anyone based on personal biases is silly. We all have biases and the key as reporters is being aware of them. I don’t know, for example, Nick Saban but everything I’ve ever seen of him or read about him or been told about him by those who do know him, indicates to me I wouldn’t like him at all. But the guy is a GREAT college football coach. Period. I don’t really know Joe Paterno very well but everything I’ve seen of him, read about him and been told about him indicates to me that I WOULD like him. He is also a GREAT college football coach.

So my reaction to Tiger on Friday isn’t personal. It’s based on what I know from watching him in action on and off golf courses for 14 years. If he comes back to the game and learns to behave on the golf course—and makes his vigilante caddy behave—terrific. I will applaud him for that. If he repairs his marriage, that’s his business just as if he doesn’t, that’s his business too. I’d like to see him sign more autographs; play in some of the tournaments that gave him sponsor exemptions when he first turned pro (and in the Bob Hope Classic which could use the boost) and just be a little nicer to people who aren’t paying him to be nice. I hold out little if no hope that he’ll be kinder and gentler with the media and, honestly, I don’t care.

That said, I found his lecturing of the media Friday amazing. He screams and yells about his wife and kids being followed to school. He knows full well that none of the media who have covered him regularly (and most treated him as a God-life figure) followed anyone to school. He also knows that it was HIS behavior that brought the tabloids into the life of his family.

As for his rant about how unfair it was for people to say Elin attacked him on Thanksgiving night, fine, I’ll take him at his word. Except for one thing: If Elin didn’t attack or threaten you in some way, how the hell did you end up in your car at 2:30 in the morning in a T-shirt, shorts and bare feet, clearly in no condition to drive but driving anyway—right into a fire hydrant outside your house? None of us needs to hear about conversations inside the house—Tiger is very good at saying he won’t answer questions few of us want to ask—but as a public figure who set in motion a series of extraordinarily public events by getting into the car, he DOES need to explain how he got there. Don’t call people liars if you aren’t prepared to provide them with the truth.

Here’s the worst part of the whole thing: Tiger Woods has now become one of the most polarizing public figures on the planet. Other than what HE did—not the tabloid media—to his family, that’s the saddest part of this whole thing.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Really enjoy the "Look, I know a lot of you will say I just don't like Tiger." paragraph, although I don't know enough about his father to agree on that last sentence.

I really think what we're watching is a man who is addicted to control, who lost control... go through a however many step program to regain control.

My two favorite moments of the 'press conference' were the, 'I have to play play the same rules as everybody else'... except in the way I hold a press conference , because I have to control the entire situation, because I'm special and the normal rules don't apply. And second is a moment no one else has mentioned, at least that I've seen, at the end when he walks over to his mother... she wasn't paying attention to him and (maybe missed her cue) the woman sitting next to her actually gives her a little tap on the hand as if to say, 'get up he's coming over to give you the hug.'

I wish Tiger luck... because in this day and age, if he ever goes out to dinner and stands anywhere near a hostess or a waitress or just a woman in general and someone can get a picture-phone shot of them, we'll see it... and out of context it will look bad. God I feel sorry for him and sorry for us having to see it. Love the blog. Thanks for writing it.


Matt Dick said...

"Owing" is such a weird concept. He doesn't owe me anything. But he's not owed anything either. He was very good at golf, and was able to smile and seem genuine, so he *got* large contracts. He wasn't owed them. Now those contracts may be smaller than before, maybe not.

But I wonder what makes you say he's very smart. Nothing I've seen indicates he's so smart. He's successful and clever about golf shots... but he seems to succeed despite being a jerk to everyone in the world. In fact, he couldn't be enough of a jerk all by himself so he had to farm out some of the work to his caddy. That he maintained an image despite this seems lucky, not smart.

Greg said...

And we know, if you are wearing a suit, it will have size 32 pants!

HenryFTP said...

Now that you've got that off your chest, could you please give us some insights into that amazing Canada-U.S. hockey match that NBC buried on MSNBC? Ed Olcyk is a terribly nice guy and I have fond memories of him as a player but he's not much of a color commentator. Although I don't think Martin Brodeur played particularly well, I think the more interesting story is how suspect the Canadian defense looks, masked to small degree by how almost overwhelming the Canadians are in the offensive zone. And query whether the Canadian tactic of putting big hits on the smaller American players wasn't ultimately counterproductive, as the Americans remained better positioned at both ends of the ice despite having the run of play largely against them.

This tournament is shaping up to be a real barn-burner.

The Tiger melodrama is labeled as "sports", plays as media-hyped soap opera scandal, but belongs on the business pages. I certainly don't begrudge Woods trying to repair the damage to his "brand", but I sure do resent the complaisance of the corporate media and the PGA in continuing to let him dictate the terms. It's part and parcel of the lack of accountability in the power structure in our society. But the corporate media and the PGA and Woods's "handlers" all want to hustle him back out on the golf course with a "repaired image" as soon as possible so they can return to making big bucks off his meta-phenomenon -- just like MGM doped up Judy Garland until she just flat out couldn't perform any more.

Anonymous said...

Feinstein is a one trick pony on the Tiger Woods story. There is no new insight, we know exactly where he stands. Mr. Feinstein is reduced to the likes of Sean Hannity; repeating the same 'talking points' day after day. I'm sick of self righteous media types telling us all why Tiger Woods is a 'bad guy'. I for one think his apology and public comments were not necessary.

The more Feinstein pontificate the more ridiculous he sounds...such as talking about his deceased Father sharing blame. You got to kidding me.

Dan said...

Can you show me where in the article Feinstein said Tiger is a "bad guy?" He said he's arrogant, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue, with a straight face, that Tiger is not, and not been, arrogant for much of his career. (Which, by the way, Feinstein credits for some of his success!) And he doesn't "blame" Earl Woods... just states that Tiger is to some extent a "victim" of his father - presumably in the context of his ambition and relentless drive to make his son what Earl himself described as "bigger than Jesus."

I think that the theme of this piece is that Tiger wants to have his cake and eat it, too, in the context of not only this scandal but all other aspects of his life. He wants to be beloved without being loveable; to be the world's most successful pitchman without being available; to be married and have children but carry on multiple tawdy affairs; and, now, to be forgiven without displaying any evident remorse at anything other than having been caught and put in this position. He is not respectful of others - be it his wife, fellow players, fans, the press - but wants to be respected. An entitled sense of expectation that others will give to you - without you giving anything back - is the essence of arrogance.

Tiger's a great golfer, best ever. And I don't really care about his personal life. But please don't call people "ridiculous" for calling it like they see it when they comment on Tiger's, well, ridiculous, over-managed, lame, insincere apology.

Anonymous said...

Terrific column, as always. Agree completely about Tiger's father. You can't steal someone's childhood, tell them they are going to change the world and expect that person to turn out well.

qtlaw24 said...

Mr. Feinstein,

Keep up the beat for those of us who do not have access to Mr. Woods and yet who have been transfixed by his brilliance and arrogance.

I've been a fan of his athletic achievements since he was a highly acclaimed junior. I was willing to give him and his caddie the benefit of the doubt with the aggression because I accepted his story about being subjected to "different" conditions than the average golfer.

These transgressions are of his making and he has no one to blame but the guy in the mirror. The hounding of Elin and his kids? Its insulting for him to complain and expect anything less. Has he not seen what Angelie Jolie/Brad Pitt's kids are subjected to? Tom Cruise's kids? Surely he knew the game when he opened up to People magazine when his kids were born. He knew the bargain when he began reaping the rewards.

Thanks for the blog.

MB said...

I hope no one in the media bothers to ask Tiger for any of the "details" of his trangressions, or anything else related to his personal life. The last thing I want to hear is Tiger explaining how he has had to overcome adversity.

What I do hope is that someone in the media (yeah, I'm looking at you, John) will challenge him on the following statement he made in his "apology" --

"From the Learning Center students in Southern California, to the Earl Woods Scholars in Washington, D.C., millions of kids have changed their lives, and I am dedicated to making sure that continues."

Please explain Tiger how exactly your foundation has changed the lives of "millions" of kids? The Tiger Woods Foundation (TWF) website states that your organization has helped "10 millions kids since 1996."

Yet for the year 2009, only 21 college students received scholarships from TWF, 13 of whom were prior recipients of a scholarship. (In other words, Tiger, it would appear that TWF awarded only 8 kids a new scholarship in 2009.) And not to be too critical, Tiger, but the maximum scholarship amount of $5,000, considering that TWF (according to your website) has received donations from the public in excess of one million dollars, seems rather paltry.

While we're on the subject, Tiger, could you also clarify your foundation's grant program? The website indicates that the TWF grant program "has supported an average of 100 charities annually with millions of dollars since its inception in 1996." However, TWF only awarded seven grants during the 4th quarter of 2009. Shouldn't that number be somewhat closer to 25 if indeed TWF supports approximately 100 charities annually?

Finally Tiger, there's that little matter of establishing an east coast learning center. It's been a few years since you made that commitment, Tiger, and there's been a lot of money generated by your tournament, but I haven't seen any shovels in the ground yet. Could you please show me the plans, and perhaps also explain why the delay? And not to be too impertinent, but what happened to the money?

TC said...

The funny part is that Tiger is going to prove himself smarter than others again. Look, the media is upset because Tiger is taking away their meal ticket. And by that I mean he is giving them very little to talk about. So now they fill all of their shows talking about what Tiger DIDN'T do. Pretty funny really. It seems to me that Tiger just wants to make this whole thing go away as fast as possible, and to that end he is going to put as little as possible out there.

A great case study on this would be Kobe Bryant's situation. ALL of the media said Kobe was done image-wise, endorsements gone forever, he would never live it down, blah, blah, blah... Guess what? Wrong.

He had one presser on the subject never addressed it again, just put his head down and played and viola! A few short years later and all is forgiven. Endorsements returning, jersey is #1 seller, he's winning titles, and people don't seem to care much anymore. So it will go with Tiger. Feinstein and his ilk don't want that because it is boring.

Guess what John? People like Tiger, Kobe, Michael Jordan, etc. get to be among the greats of all-time BECAUSE they are a bit arrogant. They have enormous chips on their shoulders and want to eradicate every other person playing their sport. I can forgive them that, because I get to enjoy watching them play their sport, and that is really all I care about. I could care less what people think Tiger "owes" us, or how he handled his press conference. I just want him back on the course.

charles pierce said...

John --
I have to tell you, I was happy that he called out the stalkerazzi. Those people are blights on our profession. Stalking children on their way yo school? I don't care if they're Goebbels's children, that's indecent and wrong. Since our profession does a damn lousy job of policing this stuff, if he wants to rail against it, that's fine with me. And the logic that, because he has no conscience, then the fringes of our business are free not to have one either, escapes me.

Anonymous said...

re: Dan: you adopted the 'media line' about Tiger Woods. Earle Woods did a fantastic job in raising his son...period. All great athletes are 'flawed'. Bobby Jones had 'issues'..and Tom Watson I don't hear Mr. Feinstein calling out their 'Dads'.

If Tiger wants his cake and eat it too. So does the 'media' with respect to this story. It's one big 'mess'. The Golf Writers just don't like Tiger..I think we got it. The so called 'boycott' really put things in perspective along with articles like the one Mr. Feinstein posted who references Earle Woods, Elin, and Steve Williams...throw in his Dogs too why don't ya.

qtlaw24 said...

MB, that is a great point about the Tiger Woods Foundation. Where exactly are the beneficiaries? At least with Agassi's school you see the students and the graduates. We've heard a great deal over the years during the Target tournament and then the DC tournament but where are the results/beneficiaries?

Anonymous said...


Very good column. You really do have some moral high ground here and I think you're entitled to make the most of it. I know you were criticized for your Woods book, but not having read it, I'd be interested in seeing it first hand. Any chance it could be republished with an updated forward?

More to the point, I'd be very interested in what you think of this. Everyone seems to agree that Tiger owes only Elin and his family an apology. So why did he apologize?

I think he did so because he understands that he, his enablers, his handlers, his paymasters and corporate overlords understand he was part of a fraud. He and they commited fraud when they represented him as "a single-minded paragon of athletic accomplishment," a man of unwavering focus and commitment to his goals and family. And then (strike 1), he tells 60 minutes "family first, always been the way;" and he releases the Leibovitz photos of him Elin, the kids and the dog (strike 2); and, finally, the kids are there on Monday after he beats Rocco cavorting lovingly on the green (strike 3).

It's a corporate malfeasance on the order of the Quiz Show scandals and so he does owe us an apology, although not for his personal failings but for LYING AND MISREPRESNTING himself to us. Instead, he cops to infidelity. He's apologizing for the wrong thing to the wrong audience and the thing for which very few want an apology. It's like when he defends Elin; no one is indicting her. Heck, most people think she's perfectly justified in re-arranging the furniture and breaking some windows and calling BS on his abhorent behavior.

And then he wants us to take him back, "to find room in our hearts," etc? Huh?!? Is he kidding? Here's a proposal: he gives back all the money he made off the course, misrepresenting himself in Amex, Accenture, Buick and other non-golf ads. He can keep the Nike money although he pimped his family in a few of those. And he can keep the money he made BEFORE he was married and all the money he made in tournament winnings. That's his, rightfully gained. But when you violate the public trust so flagrantly, you don't get ask forgivenss after copping a plea. You have to pay a price, THEN you can ask forgiveness. Give it back, Tiger, and maybe my heart will thaw.

Robert L.

Gunnar said...

Good column John.

I agree with Robert above.

I continue to look at who organized and staged the script event. It was IMG, with the assistance of the PGA, for Tiger. IMG has no motivation other than make money for their clients, they are agents. Tim Finchem's leadership of the PGA hasn't been very good lately...he looked ridiculous in the middle of this puppet show. Have some pride buddy! Finchem is officially a Tiger stooge. The event was designed to make money, either to preserve the current revenues coming in, or to attract future Tiger sponsors.

Tiger had financial incentive to appear, speak, apologize (a first) and be humble (a first) for this event. Elin also had financial incentive to do the same....she didn't.