There has been a fair bit of emotion surrounding the discussions of the Tiger Woods phenomenon in the last few weeks. There are two clearly divided camps; those who believe Tiger has faced enough scrutiny and should be able to get on with his life and those who believe that he is trying to take a shortcut back to prominence.
Despite the fact that the two groups are diametrically opposed, there are a great many things that both groups agree on:
1. That adultery—in an abstract and totally non-Tiger Woods related sense—is, by and large, a bad thing.
2. That adultery really is a matter to be handled between a man and his wife; it is not for entertainment of the masses.
3. That Tiger himself has broken no laws that we know of.
4. Tiger Woods owes no-one, outside of his family, any form of apology.
5. That society’s obsession with celebrity gossip is an embarrassment.
6. That paparazzi, TMZ, E-news and celebrity gossip merchants are bottom feeders and the lowest form of life.
7. Tiger is still one of the most amazing golfers that the planet has ever seen.
8. That Tiger’s new ad for Nike is—from a purely marketing perspective—a brilliant piece marketing communication.
But it is the things that the two groups disagree on that cause the problems.
1. That Tiger has treated his comeback from his personal situation as a cynical public relations exercise.
2. That, in deciding to use a PR approach, Tiger has brought a private matter into the public domain.
3. That Tiger would be best served by re-earning our respect through his action and over time, rather than just tell us he’s changed and expecting us to take that at face value.
4. That Tiger is only professing remorse in order to rebuild his lucrative endorsement portfolio.
5. That using Tiger’s dead father and personal situation as the basis for an ad is in very bad taste.
Despite the fact that the two sides obviously agree about more things than they disagree on, the divisions are so deep as to generate significant amounts of intolerance and ill feeling between the two groups.
The terms that each group uses to describe each other are taking a leaf right out of the neo-con playbook. Pejorative terms such as “haters” for those don’t approve of Tiger’s action. “Apologists” is an accusation levelled at those who believe that Tiger has faced enough criticism. These are just the polite terms.
It is vaguely reminiscent of the “you’re either for us, or you’re against us” type ultimatum of a few years back.
The ironic thing about this is that there really is no right answer—there is only opinion. Those who think that Tiger’s actions since his initial apology have been inappropriate are not haters, they are not unforgiving—they have nothing to forgive Tiger for—they are simply people with an opinion.
Similarly, those who think that all that matters is how Tiger plays golf are not apologists, they are not without a social conscience, they just happen to believe that there is a clear divide between what happens on and off the field of sporting endeavour.
For the record, I am in the camp that thinks that Tiger has handled his comeback off the golf course badly. I am also in the camp that thinks that his return to the golf course has been sensational. Some would argue that I have no right to watch Tiger because I have been critical of him. That doesn’t make sense.
My point is, that despite all of the flaws in society, the right to free speech remains one of our most valuable gifts. Whichever side you are on, people have the right to an opinion, you can agree with that opinion or not, that is your choice, but it is wrong to attempt to deny anyone the right to their opinion.
You can even argue a contrary point of view and perhaps the weight of that argument will sway opinion. Just do it with respect—please.