Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Leave Tiger Woods Alone

I have refrained from writing about Tiger Woods, his accident and his rumored extra-marital exploits because it triggered painful memories of why I got out of the newspaper business. In short, I believed the media was stepping out of bounds by invading people's privacy.

This is one of the most fundamental challenges facing publishers, editors and reporters. At what point does one cross the line and let the facts either be damned in search of a good story or fall wherever they land?

A reluctant Woods finally succumbed to the pressures and issued a guarded statement today. (See Joe Windish's post on Naturally, his statement only begged for further questions. Such as what were his "transgressions?"

Woods is a private person living in the public arena because he is arguably the best golfer the world has ever witnessed. Consequently, there is a natural thirst for every move he makes in or out of golfdom.

His greatness in his profession is transferred to him as a person and that is a colossal mistake. Shame on the public for thinking that way. Off the fairways, he is not a god, but, in his words, an imperfect person.

What other than evil thoughts do we have speculating that he abused his wife by lusting after other women? Give the guy a mulligan and leave it at that, I say.

Probably more than any other star athlete, Woods is protective of his image culled over the years on the golf courses and crafted in TV ads. He is a brand name. As with many celebrities, he lives in his own bubble reinforced by underlings who tell him only what they think he wants to hear. The world is his oyster and when he starts believing that, trouble follows.

In this auto-accident-fire-plug-tree mishap, Woods made an unfortunate decision by going into hiding six days before fessing up. It accomplished the fanning of gossip which could have been snuffed last Friday.

Yes, there are unanswered questions. What was he doing at 2:30 a.m. driving barefoot out of his driveway? Why did his wife break the rear window of their SUV when he apparently was trapped in the front driver's seat? Why was he laying in front of the vehicle when police arrived?

By the way, his wife swings a mighty club. Have you ever tried to break a car windshield with a golf iron? It's not a slam dunk.

I think a good PR man could have earned his money by getting Woods to at least address these questions early on. After that, the public be damned.

The strange thing is that Woods gave hints of his imperfect condition on the golf course. You need not be a lip reader when he curses after a bad swing or even bouncing his club into the gallery. But what he does behind closed doors is his business.

I started having doubts about the public's right to know years ago. As a police reporter, I interviewed the father of a child killed during a gang-related driveby shooting. The day after the story appeared in the paper, the father was shot for speaking out.

So often, these right-to-know stories lead to unintended consequences. Ruining people's lives by dwelling into the dark abyss rarely accomplishes anything. In other words, put yourself in the position of the guy you are about to trash. Guilt by innuendo in this case is worse than the crime itself.

Tiger Woods deserves more respect for what he has done professionally than what we can only imagine he has done in private.

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