Look, we knew Tiger Woods wasn't perfect. If you listened to him or watched him on the golf course, it became obvious that he's got an anger-management problem. There are hundreds of professional golfers who, unlike Tiger, seem able to avoid dropping the F bomb, not to mention throwing their clubs, when they hit a poor shot.
And, in spite of the fact that he stands on the shoulders of athletes who've paved the way for him, from Muhammad Ali to Arthur Ashe, unlike them he distances himself from speaking out about issues of racial and social injustice, whether it's the role of his tournament sponsor Chevron in human rights abuses or the reality of slave labor in Dubai, site of one of his golf courses.
He won't even speak out forcefully about the remnants of racism in his own sport, not even the remark by a TV commentator that his competitors should consider lynching him in a back alley, nor a fellow professional's jest about Tiger's having to have fried chicken or collard greens served at the Masters championship dinner.
And then there's Tiger's complicity with the shameful exclusion of female members at Augusta National Golf Club.
The events of the past fortnight involving Tiger Woods and his harem will, I suspect, have a profound effect on the game I adopted as my own when I realized I'd become too old and too fat to engage in any of the sports I excelled at earlier in life. Tiger is, almost single-handedly, responsible for having thrown golf a life preserver when he arrived on the professional scene.
But the very game Tiger rescued from the doldrums by his dramatic accomplishments on the course is the same game he may now succeed in bringing down by his off-the-course indiscretions. The fact is, golf relies on TV exposure to drive interest in the sport, and TV exposure, in turn, relies primarily on Tiger to attract viewers. And Tiger is now, like it or not, damaged merchandise.
Of all the sports routinely televised in this country, golf is undoubtedly one of the least amenable to televised depiction. The tube does a lousy job communicating the phenomenon of a 300-plus-yard drive with a 20-yard draw or a Beckham-like, intentional slice out of a buried lie. But that's where Tiger comes in. The man has become so telegenic, he more than makes up for the frequent lack of drama during a round — or several rounds — of golf. The result, of course, is that Tiger's presence or absence at a tournament can make or break its telecast.
Let's face it: Neither Tiger nor the game he helped revive will ever be the same. I happen to believe that Tiger will not survive the scorn his extracurricular activities has earned him. It is even possible, I suggest, that, once Tiger hears the whispers coming from the galleries (worse, for him, than a badly timed camera shutter), he may well decide to pack it in and retire.
Dubai beckons with its hot and cold running slaves, and, with a billion dollars in hand, he could constitute a one-man stimulus plan for that troubled economy. Tiger, I suspect, is the last man on earth who will tolerate the great unwashed masses whispering about his indiscretions even as he performs for their pleasure.
But, hey, you've got to hand it to Tiger: For all the lousy publicity he's gotten in the last couple weeks, at least he managed to get one of his dalliances to tell the world how prodigious a stud muffin he is.
One thing's for sure, though. If Tiger does indeed come back, that ubiquitous "In the hole!" yelled by the yahoos when Tiger hits a shot will never sound quite the same again.