UNDERSTANDING TIGER WOODS: FINDING THE MAN BEHIND THE TIGER
So much has been written about Tiger Woods that any sane person is daunted by the task. Google tells the story: If Tiger Googled himself, he could read about himself all day for weeks. There are millions of entries for Tiger Woods jokes; millions for the Tiger Woods affair. And Tiger Woods’ women. There is a Tiger website and so on. You can even check out Tiger Woods on Facebook and ask Tiger “who he is rooting for”… Let’s leave that one, and its Australian slang meaning, alone.
In all the millions of words, journalists ask why? And they are choosing the easy answers. Tiger is a sex addict. Of course, this explains everything! Now we have given it a name, it must exist (just like metrosexual or snag, though I have never met one of those outside of a butcher’s shop). A sex addict! This is terrific news for all the people in the newly-arrived sex addict industry, for they have set up workshops, twelve-step programs, expensive residential retreats and heaven knows what else. It’s given the gossip magazines and the sporting mags heaps more material over the usually-dull Christmas and New Year period. And still many of us wonder, why? Why did he do it? And why the big fuss over it?
Let’s look at a few perspectives.
1. Tiger sells. A sports journal called him the world’s most marketable athlete. People flock to see him. The Government of Victoria said they easily recouped the $3m fee they paid him. People paid to see him practise. He was the most highly paid professional athlete of 2008. The Tiger Woods phenomenon isn’t about poking a ball into a hole with a stick. It’s about marketing shoes, and hats, and tons of other merchandise: Success with a big dollar sign.
2. As far as sex goes- it is important. Men define themselves by sex. “I’m gay” says one. “I’m straight” says another. Men also define themselves by work and how much money they earn, but sex is an undeniable mark of success for many men. When males are growing up, it’s important to brag of their conquests: I had a beautiful blonde on Monday and a brunette on Tuesday and she had huge…. (we know what’s coming, and it isn’t IQ). As most men grow up, they lose this mania for listing and counting. They find satisfaction in doing a job well; organizing an event; creating a work of art. And they find a quiet joy and pride in raising their kids. (I don’t want to talk about gay men here; that’s another story). Some men don’t get past the stage of counting scalps, or blondes, or things. “We did it X times” makes a certain kind of male feel good about himself. Am I OK? How can I tell? For many men, the answer is sex. It’s probably true that most men do think about sex fifty times in an average minute. And without sex, the common man doesn’t feel he’s alive.
3. Woods is a successful sportsman. As Mike Messner argues, sportsmen grow up with conditional acceptance. “I am OK as long as I am bringing home prizes. If I’m not winning, Dad won’t be happy with me.” Too little is understood about the links between how boys earn their father’s love and the drive for success. The boy who was born Eldrick Tont Woods seems to have fought for his father’s love. Probably, he still seeks it. It’s to be never quite secure because you aren’t yet confident about yourself.
4. Woods is a hero to many. The idea that Americans can go from poverty to riches is at the heart of the ideas America has about itself. The Abraham Lincoln story has been often told as “Log Cabin to White House” with little regard for the facts of the man’s history. America is the land of opportunity and men (more than women) who made good. It’s about opportunity, self-interest, and asserting yourself, becoming important. Woods has transcended his coloured ancestry to become a man envied for his successes. And they are far too many to list here.
5. Just as we need heroes in modern society, we love to pull them down. There are thousands of variations on the old idea of “pride comes before a fall”. The higher a man ascends, the further he falls. And the more fame the man has, the more his success, the more dramatic is his fall from grace. A hero to some, a villain to many. And he is someone whom many men envy, whatever the things they say about him.
6. Race is the issue that can barely be spoken of. Tiger himself is said to have alluded to the myth of black men and their large appetite, and capacity, for sex. I once travelled with a white American who could tell jokes about black men all day for a week without repeating himself. Rampant black sexuality was the constant theme. Yet in today’s times, such ideas can merely be hinted at. Behind the counter at the sex shop, and on the internet, there is ample material on this theme.
7. Men like Tiger risk their happiness, family stability and security. Sensible people ask why it has to be so. But men’s lives are about risk and danger. Consider the vast number of popular movies in which a male hero risks his life for fame or the admiration of women and other men. No wonder men’s health advisors say “Warning: Masculinity is a Danger to Your Health”.
The Tiger Woods saga has much in common with many earlier issues that set American hearts beating. Sex- money- a tall success being chopped down. And a good-looking black man made good, who came undone. One recalls the OJ Simpson trial and later events which ran on American TV live for weeks. OJ, too, was once one of America’s most admired athletes. Tiger is not precisely black, but a man of many races: that hasn’t hurt the story but helped it run. Almost any American can find something to identify with and comment on.
In today’s world, many people look for escape from their humdrum existence. They want stories about illicit sex, wild philanderings, hushed-up call-girls, racial stereotypes. The white American working man talks to his buddy over a beer. You see! Men of colour do want a lot of sex. And guess what! They want white women. We were right all the time.
Kimmel, M. and Messner, M. eds., (1992) Men’s Lives. New York: Macmillan