Monday, February 22, 2010

Tiger Woods: More Than Just Sex

For the past six years, I have met with a group of highly analytical people every Saturday. We call ourselves the Saturday morning breakfast club. We gather to discuss a variety of topics. This past week’s talk got a little heated once the name Tiger Woods was placed on the table. Pat Hoffman suggested Woods should apologize for objectifying women. Two hours later I began to see Pat’s point.

I placed the question in my status box on Facebook. I wasn’t a bit shocked at what came back. From, “I’m tired of this topic,” to “You must be kidding” it was clear most believe Woods owes no apology for having sex with “those women.” They grown enough to know what they were getting into. They should apologize to his wife. They participated in this fiasco by coming after Tiger because of his fame and cash.

The consensus among most is the same. The responses to that question leaves me brooding the implications of a world where sex is viewed as no more than a game pitting men versus women for the sake of whatever comes their way. The humanity of the people under the sheets has been stripped and transformed into objects there to satisfy the desire of the one in need of a release.

The names of the objects don’t matter. It doesn’t matter that there is a family back home, that there is a history connected to that warm body. She or he (yes, women do it too) is reduced to a depository there to stimulate his or her need for something missing. She becomes his crack fix. He becomes her mood altering sedative. People aren’t present in that space. They are toys to be played with.

The public has spoken. They knew better. They participated in his act of play. That may be true, but there is a deeper issue to bear in this matter. If Tiger is engaged in a therapeutic process, and he is, then he must dig deeper and deal with the way he has reduced women to no more than those objects for his self-gratification. Until he does that he will remain stuck in a place where he contends he deserved to be the recipient of their offer to play due to his entitlement as a man with money and power.

Having willing participants doesn’t resolve a man or woman of a deeper obligation to consider the humanity of those they use for play. Failing to make that apology absolves responsibility for the way one views those used for sex game. Tiger was able to do it because he minimized those women. In doing so he not only disregarded the worth of those women, he did the same with his wife. He engaged in a practice that has become common within the larger society-the placement of people within boxes to be used at the discretion of the one in control.

Tiger’s wife served a purpose-take care of the children and to make him look good in public space. The women he had sex with served another role-to give him the space to engage in behavior that he felt he deserved as a man. He viewed women like the little white ball he hits on the golf course. They are there for play.

This conversation should not be relegated to a quarrel regarding Tiger’s personal business. As he so eloquently put it, he needs to be left alone to rebuild his relationship with his wife. I raise the question for reasons beyond how the King of the golf course fell in the bunker. Critical in this matter is how the humanity of the other has been detached from the act of sex.

It’s easy to get caught up in the game of sex when no person is connected to the act. To move forward, men and women like Tiger need to examine how they have used others for the sake of their self-gratification. It is true the other has willingly participated in that game, but that doesn’t absolve a person of their responsibility to consider the worth of the people used in the game of sex. Failure to make that acknowledgement creates space for the continuation of the same form of manipulation.

Sorry folks, it’s more than just sex. There’s a person connected to that climatic experience. When women and men are used for the purposes of self-gratifications, the manipulator needs to apologize for living with a screwed up concept regarding the worth of those used in their game. It’s not just Tiger’s cross to bear.

So, go apologize for the game you’ve played.


  1. Is the issue that Tiger had sex with multiple women or the fact that people he did not affect feeling the need for him to apologize? In my opinion this is a situation between him and his wife, not the general public. This is not just a Tiger situation; every politician, sports figure and entertainer that has been "caught" due to the media's busybodiness has put all of these men through unnecessary penalties. (my opinion) If the wife accepts it, then why are we expecting an apology? I'm more concerned about the immediate person in my life cheating on me than I am Tiger Woods.

  2. I have to agree with Anonymous here, even though I'm the person you're quoting in your blog, Carl. I don't think it's my business if someone who isn't *my* partner cheats, especially if his or her partner accepts it. Though somebody please introduce me to the people who truly accept their partners' infidelities. I think, in most cases, the betrayal lives just under the surface of the relationship forever.

    What interests me about the Tiger Woods situation is 1) the meaning for the rest of us of the cruel popular sport of examining celebrities' personal lives and 2) what the future of really loving relationships may be in a society as cynical and mean as ours.

    People love to see a popular person fall. Politicians use bourgeois morality and the hypocrisy of voters to impugn their powerful opponents for sexual "indiscretions." I don't really care if Bill Clinton or Jimmy Swaggart cheated on their partners. I have no problem with Tiger Woods' personal life, though I would have advised him to sell himself as the greatest player on or off the golf course and skip the marriage contract and the utilitarian use of his partner and kids to boost his image. But, it's a little depressing to hear human relationships defined this way so often. You think you're not like these people—though as our other anonymous friend implies, there is the worry about your own world capsizing.

    So Tiger asks for our attention and our breakfast group analyzes whether he's really seeking redemption or just trying to hold onto his lucrative endorsements. But we also end up talking about our own attitudes about love, sex, money and power. Those concepts seem horribly tangled. And how we feel about them is very important to us.

    So does Tiger Woods need to apologize to his extramarital sex partners, who themselves are not paragons of virtue? Maybe we should say what I actually suggested over our infamous breakfast: he should admit that he *disrespected women*- not just his wife, not just those less than admirable girlfriends, but all women. If he did that, it might give people pause when they wink about his story, talk about which of the babes was attractive and which weren't, describe relationships between men and women as business contracts and chuckle about (or in your case, Carl, bemoan) "the game of sex." It could be a teachable moment.

    What I want to know is this. Is there any hope for compassionate human relationships in a culture like this, where no one really believes in love?

    We laughed about George Bernard Shaw today (how many people can say that?) when he said, "Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else." He wasn't totally cynical, just not high on contractual relationships like marriage. And you know what else he said? "Oh, the tiger will love you. There is no sincerer love than the love of food." Let's hope not.

  3. The public's craving for salacious details of the lives of public figures, entertainers, and sports personalities has been discussed by psychologists ad nauseum. It's infantile, puerile, and evidence of unfulfilled lives.

    Interest in Tiger Woods goes somewhat beyond this, however. He has been cold and calculating in developing a public image of superb golfer, fine family man, and great business person, all ostensibly due to his ability to focus completely on the task at hand.

    The private image, however, has shown extensive cracks for some time. Tom Watson, veteran golfer and historian of golf, has chastised Tiger for dis-respecting the game when he refuses to sign autographs at tournaments and when he publicly curses at the galleries that follow him. Other players have also been shocked at Tiger's behavior, but have largely kept their mouths shut because Wood's draw at tournaments helps them financially.

    Tiger's reputation in Las Vegas is legendary, but for reasons other than what the public knows. He is exceptionally demanding, often unreasonably so, and treats service personnel like they are his personal slaves. He never tips, unusual for a wealthy public figure. Most Vegas casino and hotel employees think he is scum. My grandmother used to emphasize that you could always gain a window into a man's character by observing how he treated the "little people" or less powerful in his life.

    And then, of course, is the issue of how he thinks about and treats women. On the issue of what the public is entitled to know, I agree with the breakfast group that it is a matter between Woods and his wife. But I also agree with Carl that Tiger used women as utilities. No doubt many (? most) of these women were trying to use Tiger as a springboard to fame or money or as a trophy screw, similar to rock star groupies. At least some of these women, however, truly believed he loved them and the now public phone messages showed he coldly nurtured that belief.

    I believe that Tiger Woods began to think of ALL people, not just women, as his utilities. His self admitted sense of entitlement and being above the "common man" is similar to John Edwards and so many others who think that their fame, power, or wealth are merely deserved recognition of their special status among humanity. The narcotic of hubris.

    Tiger will return to succesful golf due to his talent. The public always forgives a winner. His business efforts will resume, although his appeal as a well scrubbed pitchman will be somewhat diminished. As to whether Woods can succesfully rehabilitate his personal image or marriage, only time will tell. Just because he stays married will not necessarily reflect that his marriage was rehabilitated, just reflect the many other factors in his relationship.

    Not one who revels in another's misfortune, I hope Tiger's rehab is successful and also hope he relearns his Buddhist principles and starts treating others in this world in a more respectful manner. And that includes both women and men. Until he does that, his therapeutic process will be incomplete.

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