According to his agent, golfing great Tiger Woods will be making a public apology on Friday, presumably for the behavior which derailed both his marriage and his golfing career. The future prospects of Woods’ marriage are unclear, but those of his career aren’t. Woods may have found himself with a bad lie, but given proper handling, he should be able to extricate himself. Despite the hue and cry surrounding the holiday-season scandal, the public can be notoriously forgiving of athletes’ sexual peccadilloes. As a sports culture, the PGA may be slower to forgive than would the NFL, NBA or MLB, where such a public sex scandal is hardly something new. But given time, it will blow over.
The upcoming apology should serve to expedite Woods’ public absolution, which is no doubt the purpose behind Friday’s planned flagellation. When apologizing to more than one person, especially to thousands, even millions of people, there are two questions which must be answered either expressly or implicitly for the apology to mean anything.
The first question is obvious: to whom is Woods apologizing? Is it to everybody?–the whole world? Would that include Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden?– both of whom, it should be noted, share Tiger’s abhorrence for monogamy, in addition to being nasty fellows. If ‘everybody’ is too broad, then perhaps Woods should direct his apology strictly to the golf-watching public. That’s probably too narrow, though; undoubtedly a great many people who would otherwise have no interest in golf were scandalized by Woods’ flagrant infidelities. What if Woods apologized to anyone who was offended by his actions? But that won’t work either–by limiting his apology only to those who were offended, Woods would imply that it was only the offense that made his actions wrong, and lacking that, they wouldn’t have been. In the end, it will be like all televised public apologies in that the golfer’s forthcoming apology will be directed at the segment of the public which feels it’s owed one.
The second question, though similar to the first, is not a rephrasing. Knowing to whom the apology is directed, we must ask: To whom is an apology due?–in which direction or how many must the supplicant prostrate himself? Here the answer is not the same: a golf fan who built for himself an idealized vision of Tiger Woods only to have it shattered by the revelation that Woods is an adulterer will undoubtedly be hurt by the destruction of this image. But it wasn’t the athlete who built that image, any more than it was Nike, AT&T, Gillette or golf itself. Only the public can make heroes of athletes, and the same public is to blame when, like Icarus, they prove themselves human by falling to earth. As such, the public is owed no apology. Not you, not me, and not Woods’ sponsors, thought by so many to be the aggrieved parties in this affair.
This is not to say that Tiger Woods should not apologize. He should. I believe he owes an apology to his wife, his children, his parents and perhaps his God. The rest of us will get our apology on Friday, but let’s not lose our heads and think we deserve it.