As I grow older and less wise, I find myself in arguments with — of all people — myself. An Angel version of myself will often appear on one shoulder ready to stick a lance through the Lucifer version of me on the other.
One side of me opposes capital punishment; the other yells “Fry him!” I oppose torture in all cases, sort of. And don’t get me started about religion: Catholicism has provided me with enough points/counterpoints to last a lifetime, and maybe an afterlifetime.
Which brings me, of course, to the Tale of Tiger Woods. Since news broke of his auto crash and injuries last Friday, I keep running these scenarios through my head of what really happened. Over the years I’ve heard some of the best journalists say: “That story just doesn’t hold up.” Or “There’s something fishy about that story.” As an unabashed fan and admirer of Tiger, I feel a special obligation to pay attention to what happened in the early morning hours, and whether or not it constitutes news.
I’ll let you listen in to the debate between my Angel and my Devil.
Angel: Haven’t we learned by now that everyone, I mean everyone, deserves a “zone of privacy”? I admit that Tiger is the world’s most celebrated and recognizable athlete and that people are curious about his private life. But even in an age where privacy seems so fragile, do we have to give in to a compulsion to reveal sordid details of his private life — if there are such sordid details?
Devil: Don’t be such a sissy, missy. This is a news story by any definition I can conjure. Let me count the ways: 1) It involves a person of global prominence. The more prominent, I argue, the less privacy. 2) Something happened. Tiger has been known to drive wildly off the tee box, but there was some wild driving early Friday morning. Thank goodness he only hit a plug and a tree and not a little old lady walking her shih tzu. 3) After something happened, other things happened: a neighbor dialed 911; emergency vehicles arrived; the cops described the situation as “serious”; and off he went to the hospital.
Angel: Don’t sass me, slimeboy. If any of this had happened to anyone else anywhere else, it would have not made the news, except maybe in the smallest towns where they publish the photos of the lady showing off her giant tomatoes. What you describe is not real news, but celebrity sleaze. It’s gossip. It’s TMZ and National Enquirer stuff. Your idea of a good news story is Paris Hilton having sex with Perez Hilton — in a Hilton hotel — in Paris.
Devil: Talk to the hand, Miss Goodytwoshoes. You have the news instincts of a ladybug. This Tiger Tale stinks to high heaven … sorry about the celestial reference. But don’t you find any of this suspicious?: 1) Tiger was driving fast backwards near his house at 2 in the morning. 2) His retreat from the house is so reckless that he gets in a crash. 3) That his wife broke out the back window of his Escalade — with a golf club! What a great detail! I want to know if it was a five iron or a gap wedge.
This has all the markings of an angry dispute between husband and wife and comes just days after “media sources” suggested he had not been just playing a round in Australia, but playing around. If anyone knows about the wages of sin, it should be you, Hedda Harpist.
Angel: If anything criminal or grossly immoral did happen, a responsible journalist would wait before publishing rampant speculation. The law will give the Woods family a presumption of innocence. That presumption means nada in your world of bottom feeders, but there should still be fairness, there should still be justice.
Devil: Hey, one angel’s virtue is a fallen angel’s vice. Tiger has built his fame and fortune around an image of family values that he projected to the public. Here was a little kid who was loved by his dad and mom, and who loved them back. And there were championships and hugging and kissing and crying, and then the Scandinavian blond bombshell and the beautiful children. Tiger’s late father talked in Messianic terms about how his son would change the world.
Angel: And he has changed it; even you should be able to see that. He opened doors in a sport with a long history of racial bigotry and exclusion. He changed the way many white people identified with athletes. That handsome young Roy Peter Clark even argued that Tiger paved the way for Barack Obama. Why must you and your kind always exercise your Schadenfreude? You build these sports celebrities into heroes and gods, and then, just as quickly you devour them, spit them out. Shame, shame.
Devil: This story has more to do with Freud than Schadenfreude. First of all, your Tiger isn’t all that and a bag of chips. He misbehaves on the golf course, showing anger that would not be tolerated from other golfers. He’s chosen a thug for a caddy to crucify any spectator who makes a squeak or snaps a photo. Then he makes his fortune, hundreds of millions of dollars, from endorsements that sell products to the general public.
He wants his image to be everywhere. Everywhere, that is, until there’s a bump in the night. Then suddenly he’s not talking, not even to the police who are turned away from his house three times by his paid lackeys. It’s all Look At Me, Look At Me, until something goes wrong and then it’s all Please protect my family’s privacy. He is acting like a guilty man. Why not treat him like one?
Angel: Perhaps he’s just a loving husband, lying to protect his wife. If that’s a sin, it’s a loving one.
Devil: A loving sin? My, my, how oxymoronic can you get?
Angel: Better oxymoronic than just moronic. OK, Mr. Smart Guy Who Wants to Wage War Against Heaven, Mr. Paradise Lost, Mr. Bill Clinton On A Bad Day, what would you have the Tiger do?
Devil: If I were his advisor, and who knows, maybe I am, I would have him place a call to David Letterman. That old Hoosier Horndog knew right away how to get AHEAD of a story. That is always the best path, if not for truth and justice, then for image, brand and public relations. Remember the poison in the Tylenol? STAY AHEAD OF THE STORY. That means coming forward, talking to the police, answering questions from the press and not issuing insipid, vague, Congressman-Gary-Condit-like quotes about how you are not a perfect person.
Angel: You know what I think? I think you are just a sexist demon, wanting to read dirty stories in the newspaper about the secret sex life of an American hero. You’re not just iconoclastic, Mr. Cloven Hoof; you want to see photos of betrayed wives and naughty mistresses. Get thee behind me, Horned One.
Devil: It’s true, I am more politically erect than politically correct. But consider this one Feather Head: What if Tiger were the victim of domestic violence? What if someone swung a club at him and busted in the back window of an Escalade not to rescue him, but in frustration and anger?
I hang out with a lot of lawyers down here, and I daresay there may be “probable cause” for a warrant. And according to Florida law, forwarded to me by Poynter’s Jill Geisler: “Whenever a law enforcement officer determines upon probable cause that an act of domestic violence has been committed within the jurisdiction the officer may arrest the person or persons suspected of its commission and charge such person or persons with the appropriate crime. The decision to arrest and charge shall not require consent of the victim or consideration of the relationship of the parties.”
Angel: How dare you talk the law to me. What about the Ten Commandments? What about the Golden Rule?
Devil: Hey, if anyone knows about the Golden Rule, it’s the Tiger: The man with the most gold rules. I wonder if I should tell him the story of King Midas.
Angel: You know Tiger Woods?
Devil: Know him? Got him on speed dial. Signed him to this great deal when he got out of college. How do you think he’s won so many tournaments?
[Back to Roy Peter Clark.]
So I guess the question is: On which shoulder do you stand, oh reader? With my Angel or with my Devil?