Tiger Woods and the downfall of an all-American hero
As each day brings a fresh raft of sordid revelations, the image of Tiger Woods as a clean-cut family man has been lost forever in a scandal from which he may not recover, says Jane Graham
Published 09/12/2009 | 11:04
It’s already made good fodder for American TV’s legendary sketch show, Saturday Night Live.
Even newsreaders are finding it difficult to report on the daily revelations with a straight face, including yesterday’s exit from the marital home of his mother-in-law, being stretchered to hospital with apparent stomach problems. The truth is, Tiger Woods’ love life is beginning to read like a bizarre human version of that cheesy old trick in which a magician produces a endless string of handkerchiefs from his mouth. Just when you think he’s got to the last one, up pops another. And then another. But as much as Woods’ multiple alleged mistresses (a porn star and another cocktail waitress mean we’re up to an incredible total of eight now) make fantastic material for pub banter, the reality is that the story is more sad than funny.
Sad not just for Woods’ long-suffering wife (and wow, Elin Nordegren has really earned that cliché) and his two-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son, but for the young women he appears to have treated like pampered call girls.
And sad, too, for Woods, who increasingly sounds like a man who has no idea what loyalty, or being part of a family, means, and scant understanding of how to conduct himself with dignity.
As the sordid tale of Woods’ married life seeps out, his vague apology for his “transgressions” rings ever more hollow and meaningless. This is a man who apparently took every opportunity to be unfaithful to his wife. The only temptation he never succumbed to was saying “Not tonight baby.”
There are a number of sinister aspects to Woods’ numerous affairs. Putting aside the young age of some of his conquests (cocktail waitress Jamie Grubbs was 21, cocktail waitress Jamie Jungers was 22), and claims from at least two of the women involved that Woods slept with them while his wife was pregnant, even allegedly organising dates the week his son was born, the details that have emerged about the way Woods regarded women are troubling.
Newspaper reports this week claim that Woods behaved like a “sexual predator” when he went out drinking, chasing girls “like a dog on heat”.He seems to have been prone to leaving messages for women in nightclubs to “join him” at his VIP table or in his hotel room, apparently considering them comparable to room service sandwiches.
Friends of one of his conquests, 31-year-old “clubber” Cori Rist, say he liked to book Rist into luxurious hotel suites to wait for his arrival, until, they claim, “she got tired of being cooped up like a bird in a gilded cage”.
He does not seem to have ended any of his affairs with kind words or gentle affection, but instead with sharp phone calls to demand that the affair be covered up, or even just with a sudden and total withdrawal of communication.
Unlike many famous lotharios of the past, from Frank Sinatra to Mick Jagger, Woods’ exes have not lined up to defend him or insist on his good qualities.
Instead restaurant manager Mindy Lawton has called him “selfish and heartless”. His wife has remained screamingly silent.
Of course, Woods is hardly the first successful, rich man to enjoy looking at lap-dancers — many perfectly decent men share his predilections. Neither is he the first married man to be unfaithful — and there are often complex reasons behind a spouse’s adultery, which should not be brushed aside in preference for tabloid outrage.
But Woods’ conduct appears to go way beyond those common, regrettable situations into worrying territory. His actions can’t be considered a cry for help, or the desperate splurges of a man trapped in a loveless marriage. They read much more like the casual exploitation of position and power, symptomatic of a life of celebrity, wealth and never being told what an idiot you are.
He is unlikely in future to be described by the media in light-hearted terms, as a ladies’ man, a Casanova, a rascal or even a cad — the kinds of terms we use for the likes of Russell Brand, Jimmy Nesbitt or Robbie Williams.
With these recent revelations he is more likely to be seen in the same bracket as mercenary serial seducers like Eddie Murphy and Darren “I don’t do family” Day.
There is a fine line between genius and myopia and Tiger Woods has tiptoed precariously along it for years. His is an extraordinary talent, perhaps the greatest the golf world has ever seen. He is, in golfing terms, almost beyond human.
That could be the problem. Woods does appear to believe himself to be a kind of real-life Superman, but instead of using his powers for good like the DC Comics version, he’s turned out to be closer to Freidrich Nietzsche’s Superman, a being of supreme potential who chooses to reject outside notions of morality and cultivate his own ideas of right and wrong.
Having been surrounded by an entourage who have echoed his own ideas about his greatness back at him for decades, never daring to advise him to curtail his increasingly furious temper or even to work a little on his putting, Woods has become used to a universe in which others exist to service him. In the world he’s lived in for many years, his comfort and satisfaction is of unique importance, and the people around him have generally concurred.
In this context, Elin Nordegren’s chasing his car with a golf club looks rather heroic. Bearing in mind that she is the mother of two mere babies, it’s no surprise that she has reacted to the news of his betrayal like a threatened lioness, and it’s heartening to think that at least someone with Woods’ ear isn’t filling the orifice with simpering sycophancy.
She’s clearly not willing to play the put-upon little lady ready to take her humiliation on the chin, as some millionaire wives have been in the past. So what next for Tiger Woods, now that the planet knows that the smiling good guy of the Gilette and Nike ads isn’t quite what he sold himself as?
How will his family, his sport, his sponsors look upon him once the dust has settled? Woods’ public image has been a large contributor to his success — ads and endorsements have provided him with around 80% of his riches but it’s possible that they are too dependent on his previously clean cut (literally, in the case of Gilette) image to continue unaffected.
It may be this concern which motivated Woods’ ‘say nothing’ apology last week in which, following his 2am car crash, he confessed to great regret for some stuff he didn’t like to specify.
This may have been his way of showing the correct humility — he was even able to shoehorn in a reference to his ‘values’, which he said he hadn’t been true to — without providing the kind of graphic information that would have landed his public persona too directly in the mud. As yet his sponsors have stuck by him but there is current speculation in America that the new onslaught of revelations may have pushed them too far. Is there anyone who will be able to watch Woods sidle up to the twinkly, baby-innocent Roger Federer lauding ‘the best a man can get’ without laughing? Gilette might not appreciate being the butt of such an obvious joke.
We watch and wait. But it doesn’t look like Tiger is out of the woods yet.
The psychologist’s view ...
We expect some sportsmen to have complicated personal lives but perhaps we have fewer of these expectations when it comes to golfers. Golf is a game of the mind, it is a game of control, it is a game where the emotions have to be suppressed.
Sometimes, golfers seem to have very little personality because they know that the smallest emotional change in their life can impact dramatically on their performance. So, over the last week, we’ve learned a great deal about the private life of Tiger Woods and it has come as a great shock to us all — partly because of the squeaky clean image, partly because of his sport and partly because of who he is. This extra-marital behaviour is the stuff of Premiership footballers, not the stuff of emotionally-suppressed golfers.
As a psychologist people often ask me what it all means? Does it point to some core aspect of his personality or his character? Is it something that he can't help?
It is hard for any psychologist to comment on this kind of thing definitively when they have never met the person concerned. But, nevertheless there are a number of patterns in his behaviour which seem to point in quite specific directions. The first basic pattern is simply the sheer number of women he is alleged to have had affairs with. A high frequency of short- term relationships is often indicative of someone with a narcissistic personality, someone with a vague concept of who he is, who needed to understand himself through the praise and adulation of others.
There are quite a number of narcissistic personalities in sport who require the adulation of their fans, but sometimes they need the adulation of those much closer to them. One single individual, for example a wife, might not be able to provide the amount of narcissistic supply they require. Then, of course, there is the obvious excitement and danger of having so many relationships overlapping in the way that they seem to have done. Some people need to live dangerously and to feel that excitement, to feel that rush of what it is to be alive.
So how exciting would this number of extra-marital affairs have been for Tiger Woods? Given his squeaky clean image, and the amount of money he was making from his image, it would have been very exciting indeed, because of the sheer anxiety associated with being caught. And then there is the question of intimacy.
Some people, and especially some men, are extremely resistant to opening up to other people lest their disclosure may be used against them at some time in the future. Some men will only disclose to people that they have been physically intimate with because this creates a physical bond with the other person, and this physical bond goes on to make the psychological connection that much more real. This could potentially have been a contributory factor here.
Tiger Woods, with all his success and with all his achievements, may have felt very isolated at times, and needed to break out of that isolation using physical intimacy, not physical intimacy for its own sake, but as a device to connect with people outside the celebrity bubble in which he lives.
Of course, this is all psychological speculation, but fortunately or unfortunately, Tiger Woods is in for a lot of this kind of speculation in the weeks and months ahead. He has brought this on himself.