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Tiger Woods and the choices we make.


The Tiger Woods saga hardly rises to the level of Greek tragedy.

Yet watching the wreck of Woods’ career, one experiences something of the horror that Athenian audiences felt. His descent was every bit as precipitous and sudden as that of Oedipus upon learning that Jocasta was his mother. A month ago, he was the most admired man in the world. One could not walk around the corner in any major metropolitan airport in the world without confronting Tiger’s smiling visage or his hand raised in triumph on some 18th green.

Today, he is the non-stop butt of every comedian on the planet, and could not show his face in public without the sure knowledge that everyone is pointing at him and sniggering. The advertisers who made him the first sports figure to garner a billion dollars in endorsements are dropping him right and left. It is not even clear that he can regain his status as the world’s best golfer. Last year, after reconstructive knee surgery and missing the opening months of the golf tour, he still won six tournaments, far more than anyone else. But as one competitor put it, "He could still be the greatest golfer in the world with a broken leg; it is less clear what impact a broken psyche will have."

In Greek tragedy, terrible things do not just happen to the hero; he brings them upon himself. Those things that we term tragic today – disease, natural disaster – events where any explanatory connection to the victim is totally obscure, were not tragic for the Greeks. What aroused their cathartic horror was watching the unfolding drama, in which a person blessed with both good fortune and many gifts self-destructs.

It still does today. For all the efforts to reduce the Woods saga to the stuff of jokes, I suspect that there are many who have experienced the chilling thought: If even Tiger Woods, sitting on the top of the world, could cause his secure life to dissolve overnight, how can I be sure that I will not do so as well? Surely, there has been more than one person on the planet tempted by the frisson of sexual adventure who has reconsidered, in light of Woods’ fate, whether the momentary thrill could possibly be worth the potential for harm. "Calculate the enjoyment of the sin against its cost," our Sages advise us.

The fear of becoming such a laughing-stock may be Tiger’s greatest gift to mankind.

Most of us try to cultivate a certain image that we present to the world. And accordingly, we are vulnerable to becoming laughing-stocks in the eyes of our "world," however large or small, if our private behavior deviates far from the image we wish to present. The fear of becoming such a laughing-stock may be Tiger’s greatest gift to mankind.

Some may assume that all Tiger Woods’ many words about how his family is the most precious thing in the world were the products of a slick press agent, lacking even the barest modicum of sincerity. I’m not one of them. I suspect the love and admiration he has expressed on so many occasions for his father Earl, a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army, and his mother is deeply felt. And if so, how devastating it must be for him to realize that his own children will never grow up to speak of him as a role model for them in the same way.

In all likelihood, Woods loves his children, perhaps even his wife. The trysts were not something he engaged in because he did not care about his children, but, as Bill Clinton once explained, "because he could," or at least thought he could, without consequences. His unmasking will make it a little harder for the next pleasure seeker to push all thought of consequences out of mind.



What happened to Tiger Woods is notable only because of the magnitude of the crash and the fact that it is taking place in full public view. But sexual adventurism is only one of many ways to risk one’s happiness, and Woods is far from alone in having destroyed his life. If we look about us, we would note that the number of those whose lives are destroyed by their own behavior and the bad choices is far larger than those struck with cancer or other tragedies beyond their control.

Rabbi Berel Wein records in Vintage Wein the story of vastly rich family that fell into endless litigation over the will of the source of the family fortune. At the time of the latter’s death, the value of the estate was sufficient to guarantee each of his heirs and their children a life of financial security. But because the estate was tied up in litigation, the heirs were unable to sell off real estate holdings before the bubble burst. After years of protracted litigation, they were left with an estate worth almost nothing, and hundreds of millions of dollars in legal bills and back taxes owed. Each of us could multiply such tales endlessly.

There is a crucial difference between those who squander their own happiness recklessly and those who are visited with the trials of the biblical Job. In the latter category – those who lost their loved ones in the Holocaust, parents of numerous children with severe disabilities, sufferers from life-threatening disease – one still finds many who present a smiling countenance to everyone they meet and continue to approach life in a positive, upbeat mode. They can still rejoice in God’s blessings, and find satisfaction in dealing with adversity.

Among those who have made a mess of their own lives out of an inability to control their desires or temper or by virtue of self-destructive decisions, one never encounters a happy person.

Constant, intense efforts at character development, including knowledge of one’s weaknesses and the ability to anticipate the consequences of one’s actions, is, at the end of the day, the only protection of against making a terrible botch of our lives.

December 26, 2009

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 13

(13) Kimberlie Morris, December 29, 2009 4:05 PM

Its none of our business

My heart goes out to Tiger Woods. He made a huge human mistake. And for some reason, our society actually BELIEVES we have the RIGHT to know all of the details. It was a personal matter.It should be handled in the privacy of their marriage-period. You mentioned Bill Clinton-again-none of our business. How many of us-including ALL of the press, comedians, sponcers, politican's and news seekers, could stand to have THEIR personal life under the SAME microscope that they feel is their RIGHT to put these men under? Yes they made HUGE mistakes. And I do feel bad for their families. BUT, if it weren't on every magazine cover, every newstand, would his CHILDREN really have had to know? It should have been handled between Tiger and his wife.PERIOD. IT IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS- or anyone else's. Who of us is with out transgression?

(12) charles jackson, December 28, 2009 10:36 PM

Unreasonably High Expectations Result in Disappointments

Man plays golf very well; he works at it continuously, is focused, talented, and far more driven than most. He succeeds beyond all rational expectation, rising head and shoulders above his peers. And, out of nowhere, he becomes idolized, treated as if he were something other than the best golfer. Well, the best golfer is still just another guy. He may be a good guy, or he may be a bad one. He may be honorable, or not; loyal to his family, or not. But if he isn't, then his fame and fortune can magnify his imperfections, give his immeasurable opportunity to act out like other men only dream about. All we need to learn is that there is a difference between the best golfer, or politician, or statesman, or even Torah Scholar, and the best man.

(11) Anonymous, December 28, 2009 1:07 AM

To adhere to to fidelity protects children. Infildlelity and selfishness destroys their own childrens chance for normal/good relationships. HOW CAN NOT PROTECTING YOUR OWN CHILDREN BE CONSIDERED OKAY?

(10) Sharon Kerr, December 27, 2009 9:38 PM

Moral Values

I asked myself the same question, "How could they admit to having an affair with a married man"? The answer I came up with is, 'they have no moral values' and truly the world in falling into the absyss of morally bankrupt.

(9) leah, December 27, 2009 9:35 PM

so much focus on negative-please some positive!

when people pick human heros who they know so little about we are bound to be disappointed. we build people up and then love to tear them down. pity the wife and kids and prace for peace for them...

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