Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why should you forgive Tiger Woods?

Question: Do you forgive Tiger Woods?

by Tom Grant
Ph.D. Student, Center for ETHICS*


Tiger Woods apologized to the world in a televised statement. He admitted having affairs and cheating on his wife. He says he is going to become a better person. He asked for forgiveness.

His mother was in the audience, and he ended the press conference by hugging her. Woods’ wife, Elin, did not attend.

Woods suggested the environment affected his judgment. He said he had fallen away from the Buddhist faith he was taught growing up. He acknowledged that he was in a recovery program. The actions he took at the press conference, accepting guilt and apologizing, indicate he’s in 12-step program that requires making amends.

In part, he made a public apology because of the Tiger Woods Foundation, which he says has touched more than 10 million children with its programs. Character development is one of the program’s aims, and Woods says in a letter on the foundation Web site that he is a model for “integrity, honesty, discipline, [and] responsibility.”


Do you need to forgive Woods? Why?

If you were his wife or his child, the need for forgiveness would be easy to understand. Forgiveness is a mechanism by which we put past harm aside and allow ourselves to move forward with social relationships. It’s like patching a bicycle tube, then riding the bike again to see if the tire holds air. There’s an implication in forgiveness that the actor will refrain from committing harmful activities again.

We may also see the need for Woods to apologize to the children served by his foundation. Publicity surrounding his affairs fractured his image as a role model. Now it is clear that he failed to display the integrity, honesty, discipline and responsibility expected of a husband and father. Still, once Woods destroyed the image that he was a man of character, it seems unlikely that an apology can restore the image.

Now children see not a man who has proved himself through a lifetime of good works, but a man who must try again and again with every step to show that he’s honest and responsible. Is that a good image for Woods?

But to most of us, Woods was just a professional golfer. Why does he need to apologize to us? Even if successful athletes have a duty to be role models, aren’t there some limits to that responsibility? We could take the cynical position that Woods’ apology was self-serving, and he had no need to apologize to us. But Woods has obviously thought about this at greater length than most of us, and he believes he harmed us, ergo the apology.

What did he do to us, and why should we forgive him?

Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says: