Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger Woods' Apology = Lame With a Side of FAIL

Tiger Woods finally made his long-awaited public statement about his affairs and did little to address the real issues - performance enhancing drug use allegations/rumors (he denied it, but did not address the issue of the doctor) and how he plans to make amends to the golf community and to his family (I accept that some things are between him and his wife - but he need to come clean on his rehab).

Having watched the carefully scripted apology, I was unconvinced. Apparently, I am not alone (see the article below, and the links to other coverage at the end).

He said all the right things - and he didn't blame the disease (sex addiction) for which he is in treatment (which is great - to do so is to dodge responsibility) - but there was no authenticity in his words. He felt to me like a bad actor simply reading from the script.

So here is my take - a real man, a mature man, would not have refused to answer questions from the press. As much as it would suck to do so, he should have taken every question anyone wanted to ask. That said, he should have refused to give specifics about his affairs, and he should have maintained as much privacy as possible for his wife - but EVERY other question should have been addressed.

[More below]

Tiger Woods' 12-step classic

Whether you believed him or not, the golfer's apology was what rehabbers might call one hell of a qualification Video

AP/Eric Gay
Tiger Woods during a news conference in, Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

This morning at 11 a.m., Tiger Woods emerged from his self-imposed sex rehab exile to make his first official public statement since his world went kablooey back in November. He did not saunter up to the podium with a Hooters girl on either arm and announce his desire to pursue a Dionysian life of erotic excess. He did not weepily declare, "I have sinned." He didn't rip open his shirt to reveal an A seared into his chest.

He did exactly what everybody assumed he was there to do: He apologized. "I want to say simply and directly I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior," he declared to a room of very carefully selected press, friends, colleagues (like PGA president Jim Remy) and family. He called his actions a "disappointment," and he said he had "let you down."

For those of you watching along – and if you were anywhere near a television this morning, chances are you were – it was a familiar script, one we've seen in the mea culpas of Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer, and even David Letterman. So eye-rollingly predictable have these televised walks of shame become that prior to his press conference, Twitter was trending with "tigershouldsay" suggestions.

But then, after tossing around several cryptic references to how "embarrassed" he was by his "behavior," at the six-minute mark, Woods finally made this public confession his own. "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated," he announced. "What I did was not acceptable … I convinced myself that normal rules did not apply. I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that married people should live by. I thought I deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled ... I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife's family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me."

For a lot of people whose minds were already made up about the guy, nothing he said before or after mattered. Woods had barely left the podium when a news commentator on Hulu (where it was being livestreamed) piped up that he didn't buy it. Commentors on the Washington Post were in agreement, calling him a "bad actor" and a "fake."

But whether or not you believe that sex addiction is real, or that the richest athlete in the world has been struggling with it, what Tiger did today was what anyone familiar with 12-step programs would call one hell of a qualification.

He didn't lay any of the responsibility on "the disease." He owned up to his actions and the considerable damage they've caused. Did he list the people he'd harmed by his actions? Step 8. Did he state directly "It's now up to me to make amends"? Step 9. Did he spend considerable time talking about his Buddhism, how it "teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search"? Step 2, Higher Power, come on down (and thanks but no thanks, Brit Hume). Did he express gratitude for the support he's received, and his intention "someday to return that support to others who are seeking help"? That's Step 12! All of which, by the way, take humility and guts.

Maybe he's blowing smoke up our collective butts. Maybe next week he'll be in Vegas with a pancake waitress on his lap. But it's not hard to imagine someone who has won 95 professional tournaments applying the same discipline and rigor to his emotional life as he does to his game, assuming the motivation is there.

And motivation is something Woods doesn't lack for. The profoundly private athlete may have looked deeply uncomfortable at the dais this morning, and he may have stumbled over his carefully crafted words several times, but every time he spoke of his wife and children, he took on the steely, "Don't even think about messing with me" attitude of a ferocious, world-class boss man. "I understand people have questions," he said. "Every one of these questions and answers are between Elin and me. These are issues between a husband and wife." And he was even less ambiguous on the subject of the rumors that have swirled around since that fateful post-Thanksgiving fender bender. He stated firmly, "Elin never hit me that night or any other night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage. Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throught this ordeal. Elin deserves praise, not blame." He also asserted that the press "said I used performance-enhancing drugs. That is completely and utterly false." And after emphasizing, "My behavior does not make it right for the media to follow my 2 1/2 year-old-daughter to school and report the school's location," he pleaded through gritted teeth, "For the sake of my family, please, leave my wife and kids alone."

After announcing that he's returning to treatment and doesn't know when he'll come back to golf, Woods left the stand and hugged his mom in what looked like a tearful embrace. (It came as a relief that his wife, Elin, wasn't in the crowd. It would have been unbearable to have a camera locked on her face, all the better to scrutinize her every expression.)

All told, Woods apologized so many times that it prompted a fellow Salon staffer to call it "stomach churning." But jeez, if he'd held back, he easily could have been criticized for lack of contrition. And even if you're the king of the world, it's still got to suck to stand before that world – and perhaps even more excruciatingly, your mom – and admit you've screwed up your life. All the money and girl-on-girl action in the world doesn't make you any less a person – a husband, a father, a son.

Does his statement today let Woods off the hook for his epic marital fail? Well, you and I were never the ones to grant absolution in the first place. That's up to the people he truly has let down, the ones on his amends list. As he said, "My real apology will not come in the form of words. It will come from my behavior over time." Perhaps he'll get there, perhaps he won't. It looks like he's making the attempt, one step at a time.

Here is some other coverage from the web:
Washington Post
No one has defined that arrogance more clearly over the past 14 years than Tiger Woods, who has dominated golf since he turned pro in 1996. ...

Los Angeles Times
Not everyone was riveted by the deflated-looking Tiger Woods, who apologized in that closely controlled speech this morning. One of Tiger's mistresses is ...

USA Today
A deeply apologetic Tiger Woods today added to his lengthy litany of sins, regrets and promises of repentance that he needs to return to Buddhist traditions ...
Interestingly, he talked publicly about his Buddhism for the first time that I can recall. He said he has drifted away from his practice and will rededicate himself to his Buddhist practice.

The One City Blog had some nice observations about this part of his speech today:
As part of his statement, he specifically referred to having been raised as a Buddhist and sees Buddhism as part of his path, towards becoming a "better person."

"I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don't realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught."

So what is this craving he's talking about, and why is it important?

Regular readers of this blog probably know something about dukkha, which is a Pali word that is often translated as "suffering." I've heard many modern Buddhist teachers translate it in other ways, as "unsatisfactoriness," "stress," "unease," or "dissatisfaction." The First Noble Truth, which was the first thing the historical Buddha taught after his enlightenment, is about the pervasive nature of suffering in life; the Dalai Lama has called it "The Truth of Suffering." There are many different types of suffering, and suffering itself, on the surface, has a number of causes (suffering's origin is the Second Noble Truth, for those of you who are counting), but Tiger Woods specifically referred to one of the big ones: craving.

Craving can be seen very simply as wanting what we don't have. Think about it: We see a car on a billboard, and suddenly the car we're driving isn't quite as satisfactory. We want that car. Our home isn't quite as nice as our neighbor's, so we have to have a bigger one. And until we get the new house, our current house just won't cut it. The iPhone 3G isn't good enough; we need a 3GS. We might crave sex, or food, an upgrade to first class, or a better golf handicap, thinking that somehow it'll bring us the happiness we desire.

But after we get it, craving arises again very quickly, for something else.

It's not just about material things: we wish for things to be other than the way they actually are. We crave eternal youth but we get old, we crave health but we get sick, we crave fame and recognition and even when we get them, they're not enough. We crave approval, and when we get it, we need more. We crave relationships, and we want them to be the way we imagine they should be.

Woods referred to an "unhappy and pointless search for security." One of the fundamental doctrines of Buddhism is impermanence, which refers to the fact that everything is changing, all the time. It seems obvious--people age and die, flowers wilt and turn to compost, buildings crumble--but suffering comes when we wish for things that are impermanent (that is, everything) to be permanent. We have money, and we don't want to lose it. We have status, and we're worried that it'll fade. We have privacy, but paparazzi are around every corner. We might even have fame and unparalleled golf skills, but someplace in the backs of our minds we know that it just won't last.

If we are unwilling to accept reality, then, we're also unable to enjoy the miracle of this very moment that is available to us right now. By understanding impermanence we may be more inclined to find peace and joy in this very moment with things as they already are. That doesn't mean remaining still and complacent, but it does mean recognizing the gifts present in our daily lives.
I want to believe that Woods really gets this, at a visceral level - and maybe he does - but that is not the feeling I had in watching him speak. If he does really get this, and if he does show his contrition through his actions in the future, I will gladly admit to being wrong about him, and I'll be glad to be wrong.

Maybe I am being too rough - but I have grown very weary of watching extremely public figures (nearly always men) make a mess of their lives and the lives of their families, then give these lame-ass public apologies.

How does anyone at that level not learn the lessons of Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Isiah Thomas, and any number of politicians? How does anyone think they can get away with these things in a world where everything is for sale, especially lurid stories of sex and deceit?

Epic fail on his part. And his fail contributes the terrible image men carry in the public mind: We are all dogs, we will all cheat given the chance, none of us can be trusted.

1 comment:

Darren said...

I think he did a good job and I believe he is sincere.


Darren Littlejohn, author of the 12-Step Buddhist