Once upon a time, we measured athletes only by performance. Now, the new litmus test is quality of apology.
Tiger Woods stood up Friday and said he has flaws. We all have flaws, but millions care about his.
If that isn't fair, he can console himself with the yachts and private jets and a lifestyle that he has earned and that we, as ticket-buyers and consumers of things he endorsed, have helped him acquire.
He lives in an era of A-Rod and Mark McGwire and congressional hearings. Athletes used to think that being one meant never having to say you're sorry. Now, it means learning how.
Woods clearly has.
One of the Golf Channel commentators, former player Brandel Chamblee, called Woods' public apology "a home run." He was right. Woods not only hit it out of the park, but touched all bases along the way.
He said he will have to earn his wife's respect over time, not just by words. He said she did not hit him with anything on the fateful night of the car crash, that there has never been domestic violence of any kind in their family.
He said he has been in rehab and is going back. He said he has hurt family and friends and is deeply sorry for that. He said there are lots of parents who have made him a role model for their children and he owed them a big apology.
He ducked nothing. No bobbing, no weaving. None of this being sorry for how others perceived what you did, which has been one of the feeble apology techniques tried out along the way by athletes still in denial and without a clue.
Woods went straight to the heart of the matter.
"I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did was not acceptable and I am the only person to blame."
He even had enough depth of thought to talk about entitlement, a current epidemic in our me-first, me-only society. More than just wealthy athletes and famous celebrities operate under the assumption these days that they are owed a good existence, rather than making the effort to acquire one. Mere recognition of the concept and dangers of entitlement by somebody such as Woods, who will never want for anything except a repaired reputation, is impressive.
There were those who reacted negatively to his scripted, no-questions-from-the-media format. Both aspects are defensible.
Woods is a golfer, not a public speaker. Barack Obama is rightly judged on his ability to communicate clearly and effectively from the seat of his pants. Woods is judged on his ability to get up and down from a bunker. Presumably, the words that we heard were his, or he wouldn't have read them. Quality of content should always outweigh delivery style.
As for the press being shut out, that turned out to be less of an issue because Woods covered the territory quite completely. He spoke for almost 14 minutes. He addressed where he has been, where he is going next, and whether there is golf in his future.
The Golf Writers Assn. of America, of whom I am a member, did not know what would be said, how it would be said, or what questions might be left hanging. So their boycott of the proceedings was correct.
But in retrospect, journalistic grilling was less essential here. The necessary ground was covered. Quite frankly, there are times when demands by the media are less about information-gathering than they are about media ego.
All this being said, this was also about a businessman, trying to get back to business. The sorrow for the pain he has caused seemed sincere. So did the desire to rehabilitate his personal life.
But Woods is a pro golfer, a billion-dollar industry operating in a multi-billion-dollar sport. Many commentators called his appearance Friday the first of many "baby steps." And so it was -- the first step heading back toward the golf course. He had to get off the front porch before he could walk to the mail box. Next will be a stop at the ball-washer on the way to the putting green.
Friday, Tiger Woods told us, as articulately as any athlete to date, that he was sorry, that he will do better.
We will hold him to that.