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:


  1. I don’t know that we need to forgive him. First, we need to consider the term:“role model”. Why is that we always assume the positive connotation of the term? Tiger Woods was groomed not only to be a golfer, but a celebrity golfer. He made his first public appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, putting with Bob Hope at three years old. I welcome corrections, but the only way I know for a three year old to be on television in 1978 was for his parents to push him on the stage. (It’s not like they posted a video of him on YouTube and it went viral). Why would a parent expose a child to the celebrity life when there are so many documented cases of the “Child Star Syndrome”? I’m sure the father’s reasoning was that he only wanted the best for his son. So did Andre Agassi’s father, for that matter, so do I.
    I have a son, I’m his biggest male role model (his mother plays a role as well) he mimics everything I do, good and bad. He only knows what he sees; so when he throws his toy out of frustration, it’s because he’s seen me do it. That makes me a role model. He also eats as fast as he can and lines up all of his crayons in perfect little rows: role model. He also hugs his mother every morning: role model. All of us have learned everything we have learned from role models. Let us remember that as we consider whose jersey or shoe to buy our kids.
    Tiger’s role models taught him to work meticulously and determined. There is little argument that even the laws of averages and probabilities wouldn’t produce a talent that could “roll out of bed” and win 71 PGA tour events, win 300 baseball games, or have a 72 win Jeopardy streak without a little dedication and work ethic. We are starting to see those same personality traits in his “transgressions” as more reports become public. He made those arrangements in an organized and precise manner. The same way he does everything else. This isn’t addiction, it is lifestyle. He’s reportedly made $1 billion in his career, if it was just about the golf, why would he, or anyone else for that matter, be concerned with losing a commercial contract? He has more money that he can spend. His role models taught him the American culture. It’s the same reason we get the “Super-size”, we don’t need it but everyone knows you’re a fool if you don’ t get your money’s worth.
    I don’t expect an apology nor could I care if he issues one. I believe that we need to be smart enough to choose our products based on our values, not who’s selling them. Ted Williams, Hall-of-Fame baseball player and WWII veteran was a spokesperson for Lucky Strike cigarettes. My dad told me that if I ever wanted to be any good at hitting, I needed to practice like Williams. He also told me that if I ever were to be caught smoking it was big trouble. I don’t choose my razor or buy my car based on who is selling it and am not going to smoke because Ted Williams did. I see no correlation between cars, razors, or even Gatorade and winning golf tournaments. I still love to watch Ted Williams hit and I do watch more golf when Tiger is in contention, out of my appreciation for athletic excellence. His actions, moral or not, do not affect mine, nor should they affect yours. The saddest part of the whole story is that it’s a story at all. It tells me that our culture is taking its cues from the wrong roles. As educators in sport, we need to teach the difference to the public.

  2. i think i'm finally ready to forgive tiger. for that ugly red and black sunday outfit every time. i hear his new mourning clothes of contrition will be more subdued and so look forward to giving him another chance. oh and also it's none of my business who he does it with. i don't care if he did it in the oval office with a cigar and fishnet stockings.

  3. Jill,

    If you don't care, why do you need to prepare to forgive? We have tendency to treat athletes (and/or celebrity) different. Why should the amount of money one makes change the ethical standards we hold them accountable? Specifically, athletes. We can't give an 21 year-old, single, male millions of dollars and expect him to suddenly be “wise beyond his years”. Athletes, especially elite athletes, are master’s at compartmentalization. They are tremendously skilled at dividing their attention to the point that they almost become multi-personality. They run into problems when they can’t turn off the “competition” personality because they haven’t been taught how to turn it off, they’ve only been trained to embrace it. It has made them powerful and successful. Why should they “turn it off”?

    I think this is the crux of studying character development in athletics. We expect “normal” people to be kind, considerate, cooperative members of society, but in athletics, if you are too cooperative with your opponent, you lose the competition. This separation is difficult and complex subject matter. Kids, especially rich kids (signing bonus/professional contract), living new-found entitled lives, should be expected to struggle. After five years of coaching some pretty talented junior college baseball players (drafted as high as the 4th round) I struggle imagining the same kid playing football in front of 100,000 people who are either worshiping them as idols, risking personal financial security on their performance, or booing them for simply being an opponent. (Big 10, SEC football) They have a hard enough time making it away from home, being accountable for school, all while having someone dictate 10-12 hours of their day. That leads me to assume that “big-time” college athletes are micromanaged to the point that they cannot make their own decisions because they’ve never had to or when they did, they made the wrong ones, while that doesn’t fit into any college’s mission, it happens every day out of necessity. The necessity comes from the coaching staff that needs to maintain employment, which is a matter of wins and losses outweighing the mission of preparing people to be self sufficient, productive members of society.

    We shouldn’t hold them to a different standard than we hold anyone else. However, we should expect them to fail to meet the standard and implement a process for them to apply that leads them to success. Teaching that process is the root of the problem. It's difficult enough to get them to be elite athletes.