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The Cult of Tiger Falls Back to Earth

Nov 30, 2009 – 12:00 PM
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Kevin Blackistone

Kevin Blackistone %BloggerTitle%

Tiger WoodsAs it turns out, Tiger Woods is not The Brother From Another Planet, to borrow liberally from the John Sayles' movie title, or even a Cablinasian, as Woods once famously labeled himself, from some other world.

In the wake of police reports that he crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant and tree in the wee hours of Friday on the edge of his manse's grounds in the ultra-exclusive gated community of Windermere, Fla., Woods proved he's just like the rest of us. He's human, or, more to the point, unable to avoid idiocy at all times.

Unfortunately, too many people were desirous (as Rush Limbaugh would say) to overlook Woods' realness. Why? Because it threatened to get in the way of what an outrageously good thing he was -- a clean-cut, quiet and well-spoken man of some color, or colors, who wore none of his mixed heritage or any hint of politics on his sleeve. He could provide something for everyone to feel good about, and was doing just that.


His sport latched on to him because he was the most exciting player it had witnessed in generations, if not ever, and one of the most compelling personalities in all sports. His parentage even gave the game something it desperately needed, a façade, at least, of being as inclusive as the rest of our sporting society. To be sure, Woods even attracted black fans to golf in numbers the game had never seen, even though Woods started out his career by cracking wise about black folks to Charlie Pierce in Esquire. (TMZ.com reported Saturday that a friend of Woods said Woods described his wife as having "gone ghetto" on him before the wreck.)

As an English sociologist Ellis Cashmore wrote of Woods last summer in the journal Current Sociology: "Woods, or, more correctly, the media portrayal ... of Woods, is a discursive product for managing difference. By discursive product, I mean an article that is manufactured, refined in a way that conveys an argument or a persuasive type of reasoning. Woods' identity or character might have been formed by a particular period or context, but it is not Woods the person, but rather the descriptions, images and sounds of Woods, and how they are communicated that makes the product. These are practically independent of the flesh-and-blood man himself."

Woods even married who Madison Avenue considered the aesthetically perfect wife, and she, a blond Swede named Elin Nordegren, bore them two equally flawless children.

Too many among us have allowed ourselves to be divorced from reality when it comes to the Woods' phenomenon. They think they know who he really is and just how angelic his home life must be. The lessons learned when the curtain came off Kobe Bryant, fluent in Italian and reared in part in Europe, have already been lost.

Now legions of Woods' fans -- especially those who've cashed in on his fabulousness and have so much at stake in it -- are suffering from furrowed brow, better known as disillusionment, trying to figure out how something seemingly so perfect could suddenly look so flawed. If only an NBA or NFL star apparently gone momentarily astray could escape as relatively unscathed as Woods in the immediate aftermath of a kerfuffle, and I'm not talking about the bruises and lacerations Woods reportedly suffered in his accident. I'm talking about slings and arrows.

But they're different athletes. They're not like Woods.

As anchor Inga Hammond at The Golf Channel expressed to Orlando's News 13 on Saturday: "Everyone needs to give Tiger Woods the benefit of the doubt in this situation. He is not one of those (my emphasis; not Hammond's) athletes who's been in trouble before, with either the law or his sport. He's really been a model citizen, so I think until all the facts are out on this one, people need to kind of, you know, set aside what they're hearing."

Tiger and Elin WoodsHammond is correct in suggesting that we refrain rushing to judgment about a near-three-day-plus-old incident that we know little about and, truth be told, have little right to know anything about at all. But with all of us living now in a reality-TV world, Woods being as big a celebrity as there is and a 911 call about whatever happened recorded for posterity, all of that is but a speed bump. It's amazing Woods and his handlers, who've been so expert the past dozen years in crafting the perfect professional sports star, haven't figured that out.

Upwards of 72 hours have passed now since Driveway-gate and the only explanation from Woods is a statement Sunday saying thanks for caring and whatever we've heard that sounds scurrilous is exactly that. Thrice, now, he and his wife have turned down further inquiries from police.

I suspect crisis management is not a part of a management team when you refuse the possibility of a crisis befalling you. But Woods and his interests would've been smarter to borrow a page from the late presidential press secretary Jody Powell's playbook. Powell always said bad news was like dead fish; it only smelled worse the longer you let it lay around.

Woods now has himself in quite a stink and those who rely on him can't afford it. Reports of what happened are in conflict. Word that his wife wielded a golf club has raised questions. A woman, Rachel Uchitel, described as a New York socialite who The National Inquirer, to name one publication, has named as having an affair with Woods, supposedly has contacted famed celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred to mount a denial.

Woods is fortunate to have risen to the top of his game when the confluence of sports and marketing has never been greater, for it has made him, according to Forbes magazine, the planet's first athlete to earn $1 billion. The question now is whether the commercial prophylactic that is sheathing his oh-so perfect image fails, something we'll all know if one of the national magazines that puts him on the cover this week darkens his tone.
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