Tiger Woods’s self-imposed exile from golf is the most stunning–and stunningly rapid–fall from grace in the history of sports. Woods’s departure may last three months or it may last three years. But one thing is certain: unlike the twenty-four-hour sleaze that’s dominated the airwaves since the initial revelations of Woods’s infidelities, this is actual news.
The jury is out on whether Tiger’s retreat makes him more sympathetic. But we should remember that Woods didn’t choose to leave golf until his sponsors left him. He announced his departure on December 11. He hadn’t been on a prime-time commercial since November 29, three days after his car accident, according to the Nielsen Company.
This is what we call chickens coming home to roost. The least attractive part of Woods’s persona–including all recent peccadilloes–is his complete absence of conscience when it comes to peddling his billion-dollar brand. Tiger’s partnerships with toxic waste dumper Chevron and financial criminals in Dubai deserve far more scrutiny from the sports press than they have received (none). Then there was the Philippines. As detailed in the documentary The Golf War, the Philippine government, in conjunction with the military and developers, attempted in the late 1990s to remove thousands of peasants from their land in order to build a golf course. Where was Woods? He was brought in by the government to play in an exhibition match and sell golf, all for an undisclosed fee.
Tiger, with his global ethnic appeal, has been the sport’s avatar, traveling the global South seeking new acres to conquer. The sports media have for years defended his right to “not be political.” But he has been political. It’s the politics of using golf as a weapon to reap untold riches and all the other attendant privileges of fame. It’s the politics of turning a blind eye to your corporate partners’ malfeasance when there’s a buck to be made. This is the real teachable moment of this whole circus: if you front for the worst of the worst, don’t expect anyone to have your back.