Saturday, December 12, 2009


I must say that this is a difficult blogpost to write. I originally had great plans for it; in the humor department, that is. We’ve all heard the jokes. The movie they’re going to make about his life (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Hydrant”). The time-honored principle Tiger violated (“One Man, One Wife, One Mistress”). The best part about his game (“His putter, of course.”). The racism this has all revealed (“If he was going to play 18 holes, couldn’t at least one of them have been black or Asian?”).

It is tempting to compare this latest scandal to some of the others that have captivated popular culture in recent years. Before Obama, America had another political genius who rose to the Presidency with the gift of gab and the ability to feel our pain. Hollywood loved Slick Willie almost as much as it does Barack. He was supposed to transcend partisan politics, ushering in a “third way” that combined lessons learned from that “little town called Hope” Arkansas, from being married to a progressive disciple of Eleanor Roosevelt, and from policy-wonking in such bastions of brilliance as Georgetown and Oxford. Well before Obama, he was the personable President who was always the brightest one in the room. Remember? Unfortunately, he ultimately became just another sperm donor who forgot where that sperm belongs – certainly not on the blue dress of an intern. His greatest legacy was to spur a national debate on the meaning of the term “sexual relations.” And whether or not you agree that Bill Clinton committed impeachable offenses, you have to admit that he was in fact impeached, and that while later “acquitted” by the Senate, his honor … and his Presidency .. effectively ended in the mouth of Monica Lewinsky.

Speaking of acquittals, before Monica-Gate, there was a certain speedy athlete, a hero of the track and the gridiron, who took us all on the slowest of rides in his white Ford Bronco. He entertained us in the Naked Gun trilogy; he amazed us as a Buffalo Bill. And then, after he went postal on us, he introduced us to a cast of characters that not even a sit-com fan would find realistic. Find me a sillier judge than Ito. Or a funnier lawyer than Cochran. Or a more ridiculous houseguest than Kato “What Exactly Is My Purpose Here on Earth?” Kaelin. “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit,” said Cochran, ever dramatically. “Your waiter will be with you shortly,” said OJ to his wife just before she died, according to the popular joke. Frankly, by the time it was all over, you couldn’t tell dark humor from even darker reality, just as Ito made sure that when the trial was over, the jurors didn’t know their own names beyond a reasonable doubt, let alone the identity of Ron and Nicole’s killer.

Yes, America, when it comes to scandals, we’ve had some doozies. But I’m not sure any of them rises to the craziness of our present scandal de jour. This one has it all. Sex? My God, yes. Lies? Are you kidding? It’s all about lies. Videotape? Not much of that, but it does have plenty of voice mails, 911 messages, and “sexting.” Besides, if we ever get bored reading about Tiger’s exploits as a swordsman, we can always ogle the pictures of his babes – their faces, their legs … and the rest will soon be coming to a magazine stand near you. Personally, I’m offended that whenever they show that video of “Porn Star #1” talking about having sex with Tiger, you can tell she’s topless, but the powers-that-be won’t let you see her top. This is the star of “Diary of a Horny Housewife” we’re talking about. Would she really mind if we all got just a glimpse of what Tiger saw in its Full Monty? Sheesh. It’s tough living in a Puritan society.

Obviously, the Tiger scandal IS a laughing matter. Candidly, though, I’ve sometimes failed to see the humor. Despite the fact that we are talking about Tiger Woods, I’d rather not beat around the bush any longer. Truth be told, prior to Thanksgiving, I was a HUGE Tiger Woods fan. I slept with a Tiger Woods bobble head doll about 10 inches from my bed. [OK. I’ll stop – but it really was roughly 10 inches away.] It was the doll they created during the Tiger Slam year to commemorate each of the Grand Slam titles; my bobble head celebrated the victory at the PGA tournament. I always tried hard to watch him play, whether it was a major tournament, a minor tournament, or one of those B.S. exhibitions that don’t even officially count as PGA events.

I enjoyed the fact that my favorite AFC football team is the Raiders, just like Tiger. That my favorite basketball team is the Lakers, just like Tiger. That my college is Stanford, just like Tiger, and that we both closely follow Stanford sports. And yes, I’ve always liked blondes … just like Tiger.

One of my best friends comes from Cypress, California, a small town in Orange County, and I frequently stayed with my friend’s family when taking trips to LA-LA land during college. Wouldn’t you know it? Tiger grew up in Cypress, California.

In short, while it now appears that Tiger and I have nothing in common, I didn’t feel that way the day before Thanksgiving.

I know the politically correct attitude to take when reflecting on this scandal. At first, I tried to take it myself. According to the modern sensibility, we’re supposed to ignore indiscretions of a sexual nature. We’re supposed to point out that the infidelity rolls include such luminaries as Einstein, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. We’re supposed to remind ourselves that it’s not against the law to screw around on our wives, and that when people do have affairs, it’s really none of anyone’s business except for them and their families. And we’re supposed to quote philosophers such as Chris Rock who famously said “A man is only as faithful as his options.”

End of discussion, right?

Perhaps it should be, but it isn’t for me. You see, I am the product of an extremely close, Jewish, three-person family. There was my dad – a kind, intellectual man who was 48 when I was born. My mom – nine years his junior, she loved to boss him around, but she still loved him. And me. When I was 30, I moved back to their neighborhood, and have lived 600 or so feet from their house ever since. My father passed away seven years ago, but I have never forgotten the lessons he taught me. Among them was that next to murder, there is probably no more heinous offense than cheating on your spouse. Even theft doesn’t compare, because adultery is a kind of theft, only the person from whom you’re stealing (specifically, her honor, self-respect, and dreams of being in a lifelong, exclusive romance) is the one to whom you’ve pledged your greatest trust.

I realize how antiquated this attitude sounds here in modern America. But is our uber-tolerance on these issues really so enlightened? I suspect much of this tolerance comes from the fact that American culture is dominated not by Jews but rather by Christians. In Christianity, sex is not treated with reverence. It is associated with the baser, “physical” side of human existence. Consequently, it was the subject of much repression over the centuries, and there now exists a passion to react against that repression and just let her rip! In the traditional Jewish culture, by contrast, sex was sanctified. Married Jews aren’t merely permitted to have sex, they are DIRECTED to have sex every Shabbat unless the woman is at a certain point in her menstrual cycle. Sex in Judaism is much like alcohol – something that is viewed as subject to abuse or to sanctification, depending upon whether it is appropriately regulated. We celebrate the fact that we can get drunk on Purim, or have sex with our spouses on a Friday night. What we don’t do is take this as a license to become alcoholics or polygamists.

Historically, the rate of Jewish alcoholism has been very low. And while I do not know whether the same can be said for Jewish infidelity, it is unquestionably deeply contrary to the lessons of the culture. My dad, the former professor who was as straight-laced as it comes, took his reverence for sex to an extreme. He refused as a matter of principle to neuter our dog, as he thought that this was an “inhuman” way to treat an animal. Consequently, our dog became a wild, suburban beast, who was impossible to control – particularly when a neighbor’s bitch was in heat. We ultimately had to give the dog away to a family in the country, though not until a fair number of the neighbors had signed a petition to protest the dog’s running loose. All those problems stemmed from the refusal to neuter the dog, but my dad never regretted it. He honored the sex drive – to remove it would seem almost like a lobotomy.

The willingness to sanctify those aspects of life that the Christians term as “sinful” is one of the things I love most about being Jewish. But there are some nasty side-effects of this attitude, and one of them is that I really do lack tolerance for infidelity. I have friends who I know cheat on their spouses, and they remain my friends, so I don’t take this attitude to its ultimate extreme. Still, when it comes to the behavior itself, I truly loathe it – it reflects dishonesty, disloyalty and weakness of will. And to call it disrespectful is an understatement. When a man cheats on his wife, he disrespects her in particular, women generally, romantic love, his word, his society’s moral code, and the Ten Commandments. You name it; if it’s sacred, he’s disrespected it.

And spare me all the B.S. about “A man is only as faithful as his options.” I don’t buy it for a second. To be sure, if any of us grew up in an environment where from age 15 on, beautiful women were constantly throwing their bodies at us, perhaps we’d all be promiscuous. But it’s probably also true that if we grew up in an environment where from a young age we worked as hit-men in the mob, we’d end up with a callous attitude toward murder. What does that prove? That it would be pathetic to grow up in the mob, and it would be similarly pathetic to grow up without a visceral appreciation for sexual fidelity. Feel sorry, then, for the slutty athlete, but don’t assume that if you had his options tomorrow, you’d descend to his level.

Look at it this way: sex and drugs have a lot in common. Most of us can appreciate sex, and most of can appreciate drugs (tell me coffee and liquor aren’t drugs). But all of us understand that drug addiction can ruin even the best of people. And what I hope Americans are seeing for themselves is the same can be said for an addiction to sex.

With respect to Tiger, I must admit to being in a state of confusion. On the one hand, it seems irrational to allow myself to get angry at him if I haven’t gotten angry at those of my friends who I know to be adulterers. (Disappointed, yes, but not angry). On the other hand, Tiger is in a truly unique situation. He created an image of someone who in many respects is the pinnacle of virtue, and I bought off on it like an idiot. According to the Legend of Tiger, he was (a) among the wealthiest entertainers who has ever lived, earning more than $100 million per year in endorsements; (b) a superb athlete with a finely tuned, almost picture-perfect build; (c) as mentally tough on the golf course as he was physically strong; (d) the product of an Eastern spirituality, which he absorbed from his Thai mother, and which enabled him to center his mind when others might lose their nerves; (e) an extremely intelligent person, reflected by his accomplishments in the classroom, (f) a true student of his game who is respectful of and knowledgeable about its history, (g) a gentleman, as is befitting the “gentleman’s game” that he has mastered, (h) a man of passion, which is reflected in his occasional, and frankly humanizing, outbursts on the golf course when he cursed or threw his club, (i) a man of piety, who loves his parents dearly, and through his love for his father, the Green Beret, came to have deep reverence for the men and women of the military, and (i) a man of charity, who founded his own educational foundation and who was expected by his father to perform great feats for humankind.

In short, this guy didn’t seem to be the typical semi-educated, amoral, narcissistic, and hedonistic American athlete. Particularly given his reputation for mental control, and the fact that he clearly served as the role model for all the young beneficiaries of the Tiger Woods Foundation, I would never have imagined him capable of the acts that have been revealed. Infidelity? Sure. Screwing all sorts of wild women, leaving them physical evidence of his lusts, and even trying to romance a number of them? No, I would have found that inconceivable.

What put me over the edge as a Tiger defender was reading about his alleged tryst with a girl-next-door type who earned $8 an hour as a waitress at Perkins. I won’t go through all the sordid allegations of what they did together – at his house, and in a church parking lot – but my jaw dropped when I read about how she had fallen in love with Tiger and that she really thought that the “One Man, One Wife, One Mistress” principle justified that love. Is she not entitled to our sympathy just as much as Tiger, the “recovering” sex-aholic?

Will I root for Tiger Woods when he returns to the golf course, whenever that is? Will I come ultimately to at least like the guy, even if I never again can admire him? Who knows. What I do know is that once again, we have learned a lesson about our celebrities. As much as we’d like to look up to them, that is probably the last direction where we ought to be looking. Perhaps we shouldn’t criticize them until we’ve walked a mile in their moccasins. But if anyone asks you whether you’d like to take that walk, run as quickly as you can in the opposite direction. The big house, the exotic trips, the trophy wife, the garage full of trophies don’t mean a damn thing if you don’t even know the meaning of love. Personally, I doubt that after 33 years of life, Tiger will find that meaning during a couple of months of rehab.


Mary Lois said...

Lots of information here for me to chew on, Dan. I thought of Tiger as kind of an Elvis figure who got too much fame too soon (and also a young man who had been deprived of a childhood--and adolescence--by a driven father). All this secret life in Las Vegas stuff made me think of a man in a pressure cooker, letting off steam. It is also said by at least one of his women that he stated his marriage was a sham.

He was doing what he was programmed to do, and had no outlet for normal behavior, so he took the way that was so tempting. What appears to be a lack of control was possibly more of what Edward said of Wallace Simpson, "What's the good of being king if I can't do what I want?"

What Tiger Woods really is we may not know for years, if ever. He is a corporation, a brand, and he did his best to present the picture he thought he had to. He has been "handled" since infancy and is being so still. What I would hope for him is that he retire from golf for years and truly find himself. This most certainly will not happen. I think the public's memory is short and when he starts winning again, we will accept the "new" Tiger with open arms.

He's not OJ, after all.

Daniel Spiro said...

No, he's not OJ. And he probably could come back and play golf at a very high level, despite all this scrutiny.

Will he? Don't know. I guess it depends on how humiliated he is. Personally, I generally root for those "unbreakable" sports records to be broken, so part of me does hope he comes back. But, of course, part of me hopes he exits the public stage.

One thing we can all agree on is that his double life is a real shame.