If there seemed something familiar about Tiger Woods’ mea culpa before an estimated 14 million strong audience on Friday, it is probably because we seem to have been here so many times before in recent years. Woods became the latest public figure, in a seemingly endless parade, to ask his public for forgiveness for sexual indiscretions. He follows former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, Nevada Senator John Ensign, Louisiana Senator David Vitter, former Idaho Senator Larry Craig and television host David Letterman – all who admitted to marital infidelity and offered a public apology to atone for it.
And much like these earlier cases, Woods’ fall from grace was swift because he had projected a greater sense of virtue, fooling his public into believing he was a hard working family man, who cared little for the perquisites of fame and exuding an iron clad discipline that focused on winning games and raising a young family.
Well myths fall, and in the process of being discovered, so has much of Woods’ allure.
There is very little doubt that anything can ever be the same for Tiger Woods. While he may go on to win many more trophies and pocket millions in prize money, he will never again obtain the level of veneration he once commanded. Thomas Wolfe was right. Once you leave, you can’t go home again.
In his apology, Woods spoke all the right words of course: an apology to his wife; contrition before his family, friends, staff and sponsors and a plea for privacy for his battered marital relationship But in the brief 14 minute speech he failed to once recognize the most important reason his admission of infidelity became such a personal collapse. He failed to invoke the word “God.” Not once did Woods refer to the fact that what he had committed was, in fact, far more a moral sin against God than a failure in his personal obligations to others.
Not many commentators took note of this on Friday. But then again not many took note when Mark Sanford , a practicing Christian, failed to do the same thing six months ago, and no one seemed to care when David Letterman ignored the subject altogether in September.
Perhaps it is a mark of collapse of religious belief in this country that so few of our public leaders and personalities feel the need to remind themselves and their adoring followers, that the commitment to a union with one person emanates from a higher sphere. Woods might never have asked for a role as moral leader, but his fame and success, much like that of the aforementioned senators and entertainers, thrust it upon him. What he might have achieved on Friday, with the mention of that one word, could have pushed him further along the road to recovery than almost any therapy he has undertaken in the past 45 days.
This, then, was Woods latest, and perhaps most egregious, lapse. He had the opportunity on Friday to strengthen himself, his family and his public for the difficult climb from the hole he had dug himself. One word would have done it. Not out of the woods, this Tiger therefore still has much foraging to do for his lost reputation, before he can claim a successful public comeback.