Tiger's Enablers Need a Mirror

It has been suggested that when caddie Steve Williams insisted, late last year, that he didn’t know anything about Tiger Woods’ transgressions, Williams’ exculpation was the single biggest lie told on the planet earth so far in the 21st century. 

Who’s to know about that?

But the suggestion raised a couple of more important questions, not the least of which was whether Williams’ churlish behavior toward those who got too close to Woods was carefully chosen and encouraged to protect his man’s best (or worst) interests 24/7. Woods’ yacht, we know after all, is named “Privacy.” Williams, it always appeared, was around to guarantee just that.

But there are a couple of larger, related issues here. And they are more important than the bagman’s dour disposition.

They are: hubris and rules.

Hubris is a mythic concept that has to do with defiance of the gods. According to the Greeks, hubris led to nemesis. Nemesis, according to the dictionaries, is a synonym for downfall.

Rules are the things you break at your own risk. And if you have too much hubris, you typically don’t think the rules apply to you. By now the hope is that Woods at least understands the consequences of the condition if not the cause. 

But…I don’t think this is all his fault. 

(Go ahead, start cursing and throwing rotten fruit at your computer screen if you didn’t like that last sentence. But, remember, Windex doesn’t always work on computer hardware.)

It is my experience that people who don’t think the rules apply to them too often acquired that attitude because, at some point, someone allowed them to flout the system. In sports, this condition is rampant. It starts, for example, with the seventh grader who, because he has grown to 6-foot-4 and is well-coordinated on the basketball court, is allowed to be late with his homework. Or when the third grader who, because she can hit deep topspin groundies off both wings and volley like a young Martina Navratilova, is allowed to act like a perfect little brat whenever she wants.

This is not to say that all parents and teachers are bad. The opposite is plainly true. But all enablers are bad. And in sports they come in all shapes and sizes and at all stages of an athlete’s development. Enablers are often boosters, agents, gamblers, drug-dealers and recruiters. Sometimes they are coaches, tutors, teammates and “best” friends. The list goes on and on.

I don’t profess to know exactly when or where a person or persons allowed the idea to incubate inside Tiger’s brain that the rules don’t apply to him. But what’s indisputable is this: When it comes to marital fidelity, Woods suffered from hubris. Nemesis followed. 

By all accounts, Woods’ parents provided a healthy balance between love and discipline while he was growing up in Southern California. But somewhere along the way the special treatment that Woods received from all sorts of people, because he was becoming the best golfer in the world, loosened his perspective enough to unharness his ability to stay committed to his first marriage.

The popular Rocco Mediate walked into the press room at San Diego last week and said this: “He (Tiger) knows what he’s done; he knows he’s wrong; he knows he’s trying to fix it. That’s all over and done.”

But it’s not.

The writer Selena Roberts in Sports Illustrated recently took baseball slugger/steroid user Mark McGwire to task for what she deemed a mea culpa that missed the mark. In her column Roberts quoted USC Sports Business expert David Carter as saying, “Sports fans are the most forgiving consumers of any industry.”

Which too often makes them enablers. 

Of course Tiger must shoulder much of the blame. But the sports-crazed society that is America needs to step up here, too, and acknowledge something that’s been going on way too long:
Some of this is our society’s fault. 

Roberts also asked, “Shouldn’t atonement require more than a staged television event in which the actor takes a deep breath, dabs his eyes and says, ‘Bless me, Bob Costas, for I have sinned?”

The non-enablers know the answer. And, by the way, here’s hoping that if Woods does the “Oprah Thing” before he returns to professional golf, Winfrey will bar no holds and Woods will not hold back. Happy endings are preferred to sad ones. But what Tiger really needs to do is make us believe that he understands that the rules, going forward, apply to him just as much as they apply to us. Only then will the wounds begin to heal in any kind of meaningful way — without any appreciable scars.

Meanwhile,  when the next good kid undoes himself or herself because his  or her ego has been allowed to overripen in the sports garden of lavish praise and unchecked entitlement, it’s not just the kid who will be to blame. Who knows what Tiger Woods sees these days when he looks in his mirror? I’m more curious right now to know if the enablers among us realize who’s staring back at them when they look in theirs. 

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