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SANDY BANKS

Burning in the public flame

Fiery reaction to golfer's apology is all about us -- and not him.

February 20, 2010|Sandy Banks

It took a while for the spectacle to register, as Tiger Woods' face began rippling across the row of giant screens looming over the gym's treadmills, bikes and elliptical machines.

But as Woods' words began scrolling by -- "I know people want to find out how I could be so selfish and so foolish" -- the energy shifted, almost imperceptibly.

The rock music was still blaring, but the clunking of machinery quieted and the labored breathing seemed to cease. Guys gathered in clumps, looking up at the screens, some shaking their heads, some snickering.

The man on the treadmill next to me looked up from his Kindle, pulled his reading glasses off and stared stone-faced at the television screen. In the row ahead, a woman slowed her pedaling and tuned her iPod to a station with an audio feed.

I was at a Studio City gym on Friday morning to see how Tiger's mea culpa would play after all of the buildup and publicity.

The body language made words unnecessary: All around me, I watched arms cross chests reflexively.

::

It was the sideshow we'd been waiting for; a media moment that said as much about the people watching as about the man at the podium.

The reviews of Woods' performance -- at the gym, in the office, on the talk-show circuit -- seemed to me so widely divergent, I wondered if we were watching the same person.

It was a robotic, wooden, phony speech. Or a wounded man's heartfelt confession.

It was all about money and public image. Or an addict's step toward recovery.

It was less than a curious public deserved. Or more than we have a right to expect.

I thought Woods said just enough, sincerely and with dignity. But then I thought he needed to say nothing at all; that his "transgressions" aren't our business anymore.

It's been three months since Woods crashed his car, and his personal life became fodder for scandal mongers. Back then, like so many others, I was trolling the Web for juicy gossip.

But now, censure feels like piling on. His paramours have spilled their guts and are lining up for financial cuts. His big-money sponsors have bailed out and labeled him morally bankrupt. His wife is ring-less and talking divorce.

Yet we still want our pound of flesh.

"I was looking for contrition and humility, not a staged charade," sports talk show host Jim Rome proclaimed as he lit into Woods on Friday morning.

"I'm not buying it," said another, who criticized Woods, first for not crying, then for not taking questions from reporters.

But what kind of questions would those be?

Perhaps the kind someone close to Woods should have asked when he was tearing through cocktail waitresses.

"He's not the man everybody thought he was," one radio talk show caller complained.

But whose fault is that? We knew the golfer. Why did we ever think we knew the man?

::

This hoopla is a reflection of us; a public requiring contrition as validation -- or as punishment for letting us down.

We made him out to be more than a gifted athlete, a talented golfer. He was the devoted son, the multicultural icon, the high school geek who wound up with the money and the model.

What went on behind the curtain, nobody asked. And for all our nattering now about confession being good for the soul, it's not his soul we're worried about, but ours.

Locking us out of his healing process may be the best thing Woods can do to protect his career and salvage his marriage.

The male golfers I talked to at the gym had only one question for him: When will you be back on the links?

And the women gave Woods credit for finally learning a little about discretion.

"I appreciated the fact that he kept the part between him and his wife private," said Pilar Bullock, a personal trainer who took a break from her workout to watch Woods. "It's not our business. It never was."

But it is his wife's business, and I hope she asks for every detail. Elin needs to know what happened so she can know the truth about the man she married. She can't heal until she knows what challenges she's dealing with.

And the rest of us ought to butt out and stop trying to peer into the heart of the man. Our conclusions, after all, say as much about us as about him.

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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