Tiger, why didn’t you save the world?

At least the tabloids only expect Woods to spill the beans. The left bizarrely expects him to ‘challenge capitalism’.

David Bowden

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Topics Politics

Despite the approach of Christmas, for Tiger Woods it’s the Easter story that must be resonating right now. While he may not be the Messiah, he is certainly a very naughty boy. Still, he could be forgiven for messianic thoughts given the eagerness of media commentators to sacrifice him for the sins of modernity.

Woods, it might be remembered, has been caught out having numerous affairs and also had a very embarrassing domestic row during the holiday season. While I imagine it is not particularly pleasant for his wife and family – and he hardly helped matters by choosing to seduce cocktail waitresses with names such as Chesty or Lusty – it is hardly a crime against public decency. Far from being dismissed as a blemish on the otherwise glittering career of an All-Time Great, however, these transgressions have somehow sent his career into meltdown and the handwringing into overdrive.

That he used to be a golfer is now forgotten amidst the media’s furious attempt to uncover, blame, understand and moreover talk in great detail about the extraordinary fall from grace of this seemingly normal champion. Just to recap, according to the allegations and rumours, Woods is variously the sex addict, the dope-fiend, the heartbreaker, the hypocrite, the victim of white oppression, the traitor to black sexuality, the modern-day slave trader, the colonialist and the all-round disappointment to liberal America. Bet his carbon footprint’s massive, too.

That Woods has become a morality tale for our times was summarised most neatly by Dave Zirin writing in The Nation (1). The scandal was a good example of ‘chickens roosting’; Woods brought the media wolves to his door by demonstrating ‘a complete lack of conscience when it comes to promoting his billion-dollar brand’. If he had just been a golfer, the argument implies, then this storm would be little more than a prurient gawp at the sex life of a celebrity. But by using his ‘global ethnic appeal’ to associate himself with Chevron, Dubai and the Phillipines government, he has profited from human rights abuses and slave labour and has helped to prop up brutal regimes. And throughout he has continually asserted his right not to speak out against them. Worst of all, Woods has vigorously defended his right ‘not to be political’. This makes him fair game.

Given the liberal shopping list of fashionable outrage this represents, one might be forgiven for finding the speculation as to which British TV presenter Woods might’ve taken up the fairway a bit trivial by comparison. But what makes Woods so refreshing is his refusal to use his celebrity to speak out on fashionable social issues, focusing instead on his golf, his sex life and his unwavering commitment to giving you the best shave a man can get. The attempt to paint him as a symbol of Western decadence – notice the glee with which his connection to Dubai, the miserabilists’ Sodom and Gomorrah (2), is trotted out – is a poor excuse for muck-raking in someone’s private life.

At least Gabby Logan, writing in The Times (London), tacitly admits that what makes the case so fascinating is the Schadenfreude inherent in watching a supremely successful man’s life hitting the rough (3). No one pretends Schadenfreude is a particularly attractive emotion.

While it is true that Woods has made a fortune from his endorsements and became a pre-Obama poster boy for black America, let’s not forget that it was founded on one thing: his supreme talent as a sportsman. I must admit to finding golf one of the most baffling spectator sports in existence, but I do recognise that it is a game which fascinates and obsesses a large part of the world. The concentration, technique and, above all, the sheer amount of practice required to maintain your game is one of life’s great mysteries and one has to recognise Woods’ status as currently its finest exponent. As Simon Barnes noted this week, Woods’ brilliance elevated the sport to a global popularity which will quickly disappear without him (4). He’s that good. So good, in fact, that this week Associated Press’ sports editors saw fit to vote him ‘Athlete of the Decade’ (5). It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that some of the comments directed his way by fellow golfers such as Jesper Parnevik come from a deep pool of envy.

That Woods is taking a break from the sport to remove himself from the spotlight while he rebuilds his life is the most frustrating aspect of this case. The real tragedy of most sportsmen is that their failings off the pitch bring them down on it – George Best and Paul Gascoigne spring to mind, people who never quite lived up to their sublime potential. While it’s questionable whether Woods would maintain his game with outside pressures (and the psychology of sport is one of its most appealing dramatic elements), the fact that we do not yet know how Woods will cope with this test of his mental capacity is a shame. That this is due to ugly – though certainly not illegal – behaviour in his private life is a tragedy. But Woods’ political views, or lack thereof, ought to be no one’s business but his own.

David Bowden is a writer based in London and a co-founder of the Institute of Ideas’ Current Affairs Forum.

Previously on spiked

Nathalie Rothschild criticised the white Madonna’s burden. Brendan O’Neill looked at Brad, Angelina and the rise of ‘celebrity colonialism’ and welcomed us to the People’s Republic of Bono. Mick Hume outlined the importance of trashing celebrity culture. Elsewhere, Tim Black looked at the public unravelling of Gazza. Or read more at spiked issue Celebrity.

(1) Tiger Woods’s cold embrace, Guardian, 15 December 2009

(2) A Sodom and Gomorrah for secular miserabilists, by Brendan O’Neill, 2 December 2009

(3) Tiger Woods: an accident waiting to happen, The Times (London), 11 December 2009

(4) Tiger Woods’s giant footsteps will prove impossible to fill, The Times (London), 14 December 2009

(5) Tiger Woods named Athlete of the Decade, BBC News, 17 December

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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