Tiger Woods, arguably the world's greatest golfer, but no longer one of the world's greatest sports role models, undoubtedly can relate to the words of Frank Sinatra's 1966 hit song That's Life, written by Kelly Gordon and Dean K. Thompson:
That's Life, That's Life, that's what all the people say,
You're riding high in April, shot down in May,
But I know I'm gonna change that tune,
When I'm back on top, back on top in June"
Tiger, though, has little chance of being back on top anytime soon, if ever, in the eyes of his many millions of once-admirers all over the world. There are profound lessons for all of us in Tiger's fall from grace, lessons that have little to do with philandering and despicable misconduct. Since the Winter Holiday Season, in all major religions a time for lessons, is now upon us, here are some insights into the rise and fall of Tiger Woods:
1) Truly, from those to whom much is given, much is expected. Tiger Woods was not just perhaps the best golfer of all time, he was the poster boy for the American dream, rising from ordinary origins to his exalted status by dint of innate talent, much hard work, and clean living. His many fans, and even the general public, feel betrayed now that Tiger's dark side has come to the fore, fed by rumor and innuendo as well as fact.
2) From the very beginning of the Tiger Woods revelations, he has handled his problems atrociously. How could he have been so naÃ¯ve as to ever think that his pleas for privacy would do more than whet the sleaze-media's appetite to expose every detail of Tiger's misdeeds? How could he possibly believe that failing to cooperate with the Florida State Police would be to his advantage? How could he leave a trail of emails and phone messages that would inevitably come to light as the scandal escalated? To say that Tiger Woods has been indiscreet is like saying the Titanic was poorly piloted.
3) Contrary to the adage that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," as soon as some money was offered for lurid stories, true or otherwise, of Tiger's escapades, what may have happened in Vegas, or California, or New York, or anywhere else, soon became public knowledge, rising to the level of public disgrace. Whatever kernel of truth exists in that mountain of multi-mistresses, hyped-up stories, and worse jokes, is secondary to the titillation that the entire matter provides. Tiger's tale goes far beyond those of, say, Edwards or Spitzer or Sanford; his fall from grace is swifter and steeper.
What can we learn, then, from the sad saga of Tiger Woods? For starters, misbehavior may be hidden for a while, but it will all come out in the end, if you are rich, famous, and admired. When one becomes a public figure whether in sports or politics or business or anywhere else one's life inevitably becomes public, too. The right to privacy is forfeit to the media's abilities to dig out every slightest detail of your life, abilities fueled by money offered for those details, and the technology to photo-document and record your activities. Not only is a picture worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, it may now be worth many thousands of dollars, in an era where nearly everyone carries a camera.
The next lesson is that, when unpleasant truths or even suspicions begin to appear, it is far wiser to tell the whole story at once rather than to die the death of a thousand cuts as in the Tiger Woods case. The public is much more forgiving of misconduct than it is of being misled. Denials are much more likely to be believed if admissions are complete and reasonably truthful. Whatever can come out will come out, and a continuous trickle only feeds the fire, whereas a flood may even help to douse the flames.
But, there are more profound lessons to be learned from the Tiger Woods debacle, similar in some ways to those which emerged from other recent scandals such as the Bernie Madoff case. While Madoff's misbehavior was financial rather than sexual, it has much in common with that of Tiger Woods. Both Madoff and Woods were leaders in their chosen fields of endeavor, who should have had no need to do what they did, as they were already on top of their respective worlds. Why risk everything for nothing?
The insight into why such men take such risks and usually lose, in the end came to me some years ago, when Former President Bill Clinton was interviewed by a television journalist long after his own scandal nearly led to his downfall. Asked why he had done what he had done and then denied it, Clinton replied, I did it because I thought I could. Bernie Madoff bilked the public, and his own friends, out of many billions of dollars because he thought, at least at first, that he could get away with it; then, when he realized it would catch up with him sooner of later, he continued because he could not stop. While not a crimninal matter, Tiger Woods also obviously thought he could violate the rules of proper conduct with impunity.
A computer expert was once asked what could safely be done on a computer with the assurance that it would go undetected. He replied, Never do anything on any computer that you would not want your mother to see. Had Bernie Madoff, and now Tiger Woods, followed that sound rule in their public and private lives -- never doing anything of which their mothers would not be proud -- Madoff would not be sitting in prison for the rest of his life and Woods would not be severely tarnished, probably beyond redemption.
Honor is a word not as much used today as it once was, but it is still a pretty good guide to conduct. Love of power, love of pleasure, love of money, even love of life, should yield to love of honor, when necessary. That, indeed, is a good lesson for the Holidays.