I’m not a golfer, although I have played a few times and I thoroughly enjoy an occasional golf outing with one or both of my sons at a public course in the Atlanta area. At the same time, I find watching golf on TV to rank only slightly ahead of being mesmerized by watching members of Congress mill around while C-SPAN broadcasts their votes during a roll call.
Yet, for all my lack of familiarity with the intricacies of the game, I do understand that Tiger Woods is an outstanding golfer; as good and perhaps even better than were Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer two generations ago. I also now know, from watching Tiger Woods’ televised mea culpa last Friday, that there’s a good reason he doesn’t do much of it. He stinks as a public speaker. But then again, maybe it was the subject matter about which he was speaking that made it so excruciating to watch. He was, after all, addressing the nation on a topic about which he shouldn’t have been pressured into doing in the first place — his personal sex life. Perhaps if he had been caught cheating on his score cards, or using a golf ball with a super-secret core that had not yet been approved by the PGA, it might have made sense for him to subject himself to this self-flagellation. Maybe if the actions in which he lamented having been involved consituted a criminal offense, there might have been some legitimacy to his apologia.
But none of these arguably “public” factors presented themselves when Tiger stood uncomfortably in front of a bland blue curtain, behind a too-small podium and before an audience whose discomfort at being present was palpable. He was there, and they were they, and the television cameras were there not because Tiger had committed a public offense or a professional infraction. They were there because America’s appetite for peering into the personal lives of public figures — especially their sex lives — truly is insatiable.
A decade ago, when I was pressing the House of Representatives to impeach then-President Clinton for obstruction of justice and perjury, and when I and the other House managers argued for his conviction in the Senate, we constantly were forced to fend off charges that the impeachment was “all about personal behavior; all about sex.” Of course, it wasn’t about the former president’s personal behavior (I could care less then and I could care less now how he gets his kicks); it was about his public mis-behavior — perjury and obstruction of justice committed by a high government official. But, the effort to paint the procedure as trivial and personal figured prominently in Clinton’s eventual “acquittal” by the Senate.
With Tiger Woods, the “case” against him is all about sex. It is purely personal. And he should be left alone.