Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dissecting the Tiger Woods saga

As the saying goes, “there’s always calm before the storm”. Nothing could capture the thunderstorm that has ravaged the formerly blissfully serene life of Tiger Woods ever since he crashed into a fire hydrant just outside of his home in the early morning hours of November 27. Since then, Woods- married to Elin Nordegren since 2004- has faced multiple allegations of extramarital affairs, cited as the source of tension between Woods and Nordegren that led to Woods making the fateful late-night road trip. “Shocking” is an understatement here- Woods has never found himself in a scandal of any kind, and the fact that this scandal has erupted beyond anyone’s imagination has made many wonder how many other skeletons lie in the closet of the previously uneventful private life of Woods.

Since the scandal broke out, a lot of stories have surfaced regarding the events surrounding the crash, and it’s hard to deduce the certainties of the case. Using the skills I gained examining sources needed to obtain my History Degree, this much is known:

-On November 25, reported that Woods was having an affair with New York nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel, whose previous claim to fame was as David Boreanaz’s adulteress and being featured in a memorable photo in the days after September 11 where a crying Uchitel, clad in a white halter top and a sling purse, was holding a picture of her late fiancée, who had just passed away in the infamous attacks. MTO stated its source of the story was that week’s issue of the National Enquirer (which hadn’t been released at that point), a tabloid known for paying sources for their stories, and the initial reaction to the story on the blogosphere was utter disbelief.

-However, in the early morning hours of November 27 (meaning it’s still technically “Thanksgiving night”), Woods jumped into his Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle and, not paying attention for some reason, backed out of his driveway then drove erratically into a nearby fire hydrant and then into a tree. A neighbour (not Nordegren) would call 911, sending paramedics and police to the scene. Despite the fact the crash would be labelled as “serious” (all crashes in Florida are labelled as such if the victim requires medical attention of any kind), Woods is not seriously hurt, suffering lacerations on his lip and a concussion. Woods’ injuries do prevent him from making a statement to officials at the time, who reported that Woods was “babbling (incoherently)”, so the investigation for the crash had to continue. Nordegren would eventually arrive at the scene brandishing a golf club that broke the Escalade’s windows allowing Woods to be taken out of the car, but her whereabouts immediately after the crash are unknown.

-In the days after the incident, Woods was evasive, but left hints that something was amiss when he termed the situation a “private matter”. He turned down requests by the Florida Highway Patrol for interviews, but the FHP would eventually conclude they did not need Woods’ testimony, settling on a $164 traffic citation and four points off his drivers’ license. Questions would abound though, such as “why was Tiger driving at 2:25AM?” and “how is hitting a fire hydrant a ‘private matter’?”

-On December 2, released grainy pictures taken at Tao nightclub in Las Vegas, showing Woods being “cozy” with a “leggy brunette” at around 1:30AM on October 4 of this year. Picture quality is too poor to deduce who the woman is, but not Woods, who is enjoying the conversation (it seems) with the woman.

-The same day as the TMZ photos getting released, Us Weekly released a voicemail message from the phone of Jaimee Grubbs, a Los Angeles cocktail waitress, where Woods pleads with Grubbs to “take her name” off her phone because Woods feared Nordegren was getting “suspicious”. Later that day, Woods would release a statement apologizing for “transgressions”, though he wouldn’t specify which one he was referring to.

In short, what is known about Tiger’s sordid affairs is that he crashed his Escalade late on Thanksgiving night and that this is related in some way to inappropriate conduct Woods is currently having with at least one woman. After that, the details are murky. It’s likely that Woods is having an extramarital affair given the tone of Woods’ remarks and the breadth of stories coming out detailing such affairs, but I wouldn’t call it “certain”. Perhaps the extent of it is that Woods went too far with a greeting, a gesture or a remark with these women but didn’t actually have sex with any of them, because only the tabloid stories are suggesting actual adultery whereas Woods has never explicitly gone that far; though I do believe it’s just a matter of time before we can actually say with certainty that some amorous transgressions are actually occurring.

Beyond that, certainties are hard to come by. The biggest quandary involves who, exactly, Woods is having these transgressions with. Through the rough, three women have been linked as adulteresses to Woods- Uchitel, Grubbs and Las Vegas club promoter Kalika Moquin. Moquin’s story is the flimsiest, since that story is only supported by an unnamed “insider” who witnessed the affair transpire, and Moquin would later deny the report. Uchitel also issued a denial to her rumour, but she would later retract the denial- insisting she was just “protecting Tiger”- and planned a press conference to discuss her affair, a presser that was cancelled at the last minute due to “unforeseen circumstances” (widely believed to be Tiger’s people paying her off). TMZ would later report that it was Uchitel’s “sexts” (not a Grubbs voicemail message) that caused the argument that led to Woods’ fateful crash, with the vestibule area of Woods’ home being destroyed just before Tiger pulled out of the driveway. It’s a plausible story, but the fact still remains it’s only Uchitel pushing this side of the story- Woods himself has been silent on the issue and while there’s allegations of shenanigans on his part to stop Uchitel from telling her side of the story, there’s nothing from Woods’ side of the story that- as of yet- definitively links the two together.

Grubbs’ story is the one that carries the most weight. It’s reported that Grubbs left a voicemail message on Woods’ home phone imploring the golfer to change his greeting which is what caused the argument, though latest developments are casting doubt on that side of the story. What is holding up is the fact that there’s a voicemail message from someone who sounds a lot like Tiger Woods begging Grubs to remove her name from her phone number because Nordegren was getting “suspicious”. It’s clear, then, that Grubbs and Woods were engaged in something untoward, but whether or not this is actually an affair is unknown. Grubbs claims to have had 20 sexual encounters with Woods but again, like Uchitel’s case, it’s just Grubbs’ side of the story being told- Woods hasn’t specifically dealt with it. However, the fact that Woods felt compelled to apologize for “transgressions” shortly after Grubbs’ voicemail messages got released suggest that this affair is likely true, because of the timing of Woods’ statement is too close for it to be simply coincidental. Still, unless Woods addresses the rumour specifically, there’s no certainty to this story either.

However interesting the speculation over the “who’s” in the affairs might be, none of it answers the real question, and that’s “why”. At this end there are only two possible reasons- that Woods initiated the cheating on his own or his wife’s actions spurred him into cheating- and both are ultimately mixed together. The first argument is that Woods, finally realizing he’s got power from being the sporting world’s first billion-dollar athlete, decided that he’d live the life he didn’t have before he met Nordegren. Remember, Woods met Nordegren in 2001 through Jesper Parnevik (for whom Nordegren worked as a nanny), where Parnevik reports that he had to ask Nordegren out for Woods because “Tiger was too nervous to do it”. Lots of things have changed since 2001, chief of which being Woods cementing his place in golfing history. Before meeting Nordegren at the 2001 British Open, Woods had just completed golf’s Grand Slam at the Masters, marking the first time he’d be golf’s undisputed dominant player (Woods did win two other majors, the 1997 Masters and the 1999 PGA Championship, but 2000 was his real “coming out party”). In the next seven years, Woods would win eight more majors, an unprecedented streak of golfing superiority that established him as the sport’s best-ever player. It’s possible that Woods gained a new sense of self-confidence after his run, as it definitely improved his recognition to the point where his celebrity transcended golf. You’d have to think that would lead Tiger to a world of women he’s never experienced before and Woods showed he was unable to resist that temptation. Granted, this is just speculation but it’s not unfounded- Woods himself has already admitted to acting inappropriately (quite possibly in this manner) and Parnevik himself didn’t shy away from condemning Woods and his character, meaning that the possibility of this being one of Woods’ vices cannot be dismissed.

Nordegren’s behaviour at the time of the incident, though, raises several questions about her own commitment level to the world’s No. 1 golfer. For starters, where was Nordegren immediately following the crash? She changed her official story to police, first saying that she went to look for Woods with a golf cart but later recanted that part of the story. There were also rumblings that Nordegren was abusive to Woods, though police would conclude that Woods was not at least physically harmed by Nordegren. The couple did seem to be having an argument at the time of the crash, but the extent of Nordegren’s wrongdoing is unknown. Woods himself would state that Nordegren acted “courageously” to rescue him from the Escalade, but why didn’t Nordegren call 911? Why did her neighbours have to do it? I also wonder, if Nordegren isn’t at fault for the incident as Woods implies, why did Woods feel compelled to storm out of the house late at night? If Nordegren did nothing here, why did Woods feel compelled to leave?

Finally, you have to wonder if Nordegren herself is doing things throughout the course of the marriage that make Woods seek out other women. Not to make apologies for Tiger, but in many cases infidelity is brought about because of anger towards a spouse, either for something the spouse did or is doing to the cheater. We can’t just jump to the simple conclusion that Tiger is cheating simply because of the above-mentioned vices or that he’s not “wired” to be faithful to Nordegren (or some other reason), because when a relationship fails it’s ultimately a two-way street. There’s a lot we don’t know about Nordegren, whose life is more guarded than Tiger’s is, and, like Tiger, who knows what skeletons exist in her closet that are just now being let out. Woods definitely deserves the scorn he gets for his behaviour, but I somehow don’t think Nordegren is faultless in this episode. Eventually, when the dust settles on the ordeal, both parties are going to have their share of the blame.

What does this all eventually mean for Tiger? Personally, I don’t tend to care about these stories much because it’s not fair to marry the private life of an athlete (or any celebrity) into their work life, unless the private life actually detracts from their work- the only reason why I care about this story is that it’s not every day you get to hear “TMZ” being quoted on TSN or ESPN, and this scandal is just too bizarre for me to ignore. So from my end, Woods is still “clean”, because I don’t see how his relationship with Nordegren is going to affect his golf game- all that matters is that he nails his putts. Others won’t be as forgiving, particularly his sponsors, as his previously “squeaky clean” image has taken a huge hit, and it will be quite some time before sponsors are not going to have their misgivings over employing him. It may be true, as Woody Paige pointed out on Around The Horn, that most of Woods’ products are directed at men (such as Gillette razors), but several times consumers will stop from buying a product sponsored by someone they don’t like, and that negative association with the brand may prove too big to ignore, regardless of the product. Woods will still likely emerge without too much damage to his reputation, since his offence isn’t too major (he may have committed a “moral” crime but no actual felony), but it will all depend on how he handles the future. At the very least, he’s got to address the rumours head on and stop being evasive about it because that’s the only way he can ensure proper closure and he’ll at least look like he’s taking responsibility for his actions instead of “hiding” from the problem as he is doing now. How he handles this scandal will have a major impact on his legacy, because only he can ensure that this is a minor blemish instead of the growth of a more serious stain.