On Tiger Woods

It seems almost incumbent, if you’re in the job of sports columnist, that you say something about Tiger Woods. Frankly, the subject matter isn’t something I want to go into on the sports pages unless I have to. And I’ve had to more than I ever expected in the past year.

But be that as it may, the one thing that keeps coming back to me as I hear that cringe-worthy voice mail of Tiger desperately asking a woman to change her outgoing message so his wife won’t hear is this: It’s the first time I’ve ever really heard Tiger’s voice.

I’ve spent a little bit of time around Tiger, though you never get close to him. I interviewed him as he came off the 18th green when he lost The Masters two years ago, and I’ve sat in on his press conferences.

The thing about Woods is that what you get is what he wants you to see. Always has been, until this week.

In fact, when he posted the words “I am far short of perfect,” on his web site this week, it’s the first time you could ever find anything on that site, or in his public persona, that didn’t suggest otherwise.

Tiger Woods, playing the role of Tiger Woods, never let anybody inside the curtain. He did it once — early in his career. In 1997, Charlie Pierce wrote a profile of Woods for Esquire magazine, in which you saw Woods inside the limo cracking racial jokes and, in short, being himself.

As far as I can tell, it never happened again. At least, not where anyone could see.

You can read Pierce’s excellent 1997 piece, titled, “The Man. Amen,” here, or buy a book of his columns, titled “Sports Guy.”

The Tiger Woods we all saw, the only story he provided, was not a true account at all, but a carefully constructed narrative, designed to fit flawlessly into advertising campaigns, a kind of smooth surface to which nothing could stick — neither distaste nor affection, it seemed to many.

That surface now has been scarred. I don’t expect this to ruin Woods. If any society offers redemption it is ours, despite our fascination with the fall of heroes.

But something significant has been lost. If Woods hasn’t let anyone see him with his physical scars and bruises from the auto wreck that started this whole news frenzy, we have, in detail, seen him really for the first time, and we can already see the scars.

It’s a dramatic reminder that the public personas that people craft are just that, images. They are not, very often, the people themselves. It’s getting rarer for anyone in a position of celebrity to really let you in.

Tiger Woods never intended to.

But now, we have heard his voice.

POSTSCRIPT: Here’s a column I wrote about Tiger as he approached fatherhood, from The Masters two years ago. Click to read.

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11 thoughts on “On Tiger Woods

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