Goal Posts

Commentary on the complex relationships between motivation, performance, competition, cooperation, and goals.

Sex Sells, and so does Tiger Woods, but do we buy his apology?

Why “I’m sorry for transgressions” = “I’m sorry I got caught”

Four months ago, I wrote two blogs titled "Sex Sells, and so does Tiger Woods" (#1 and #2). The blogs highlighted the fact that when Tiger contended for a championship, television ratings were more than 100% higher compared to when he was injured the year before, generating a tremendous amount of revenue for the Professional Golfer's Association. Sadly, today's blog also contains references to Tiger Woods and sex, but this time due to recent reports of Tiger's infidelity in his marriage.

For decades, professional athletes have had the reputation of being promiscuous. Books and documentaries have been written and produced on the subject. Thus, it comes as little surprise that another athlete has been unfaithful. Tiger Woods has many redeeming qualities; apparently fidelity is not one of them. As the list of women has grown from one, then two, and now seven or eight, it would hardly be surprising if the actual list were many times that long. The best predictor of future behavior tends to be past behavior, and one would have to imagine there are other women out there who have either chosen to remain quiet or not been identified.

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Over the past week, two issues have struck a chord with me. First, Tiger's apology was pathetic. Although I am certain Tiger believes he has screwed up, it is difficult to believe that he is really sorry for his "transgressions". After all, less than one week before the story broke, Tiger had left a voicemail with Jaimee Grubbs in which he stumbled and stammered as he asked her to change her voicemail message so that Tiger's wife Elin would not find out about her. That voicemail does not sound like it comes from someone who was prepared to apologize for anything...until he got caught and the story went public.

Second, Tiger eloquently requests privacy for him and his family. This request is certainly within his rights. However, just as Tiger's name recognition has made him hundreds of millions (some believe he is the first athlete to earn a billion dollars), in this case his recognition is stimulating a media circus. Tiger certainly didn't want much privacy when signing multi-million dollar contracts or when he was winning one major championship after another. In fact, this may be the first time in Tiger's life he doesn't get exactly what he wants. Sadly for Tiger and his family, he made his bed, and now he is going to have to sleep in it.

It seems likely that Woods is living in a state of cognitive dissonance. After having several alleged affairs, will he continue to justify and rationalize his behavior, focus on the lack of privacy afforded him by the public, and ignore the fact that his behavior, carefully cultivated image, and success are the reasons people are so intrigued by this story? If Woods does live in a state of dissonance, odds are he will continue to dig a deeper and deeper hole for himself.

Tiger ought to come out, say something along the lines of, "I screwed up. I never thought I'd get caught, and now I look like a jerk. I realize nothing I can say at this point will justify my behavior. I am going to work to be better."

We are all far from perfect. In fact, we know that individuals making mistakes can endear them to others if they accept their responsibility and demonstrate humility. In a previous blog, I wrote about LeBron James and the pratfall effect. Our country is incredibly forgiving. Whether it was Bill Clinton who proclaimed that "I did not have sexual relations with that woman", baseball players who took steroids, football players charged with murder, or a basketball player charged with sexual assault, time (and talent) has a way of leading sport fans to forget all sorts of moral transgressions.

Whether Tiger likes it or not, kids look up to him. Children learn lessons and model their behavior after role models. At times, Woods has lost his temper on the course when things have not gone his way. Just recently, Woods lost his temper at a tournament in Australia. Tiger now has a unique opportunity to show kids how to handle adversity off the golf course with humility, grace, and repentance. It is during the toughest of times that our behavior reveals our character and values. Let's hope Tiger Woods accepts responsibility for his mistakes, and that he is honest, open, and vulnerable about his behavior.

John Tauer, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Assistant Men's Basketball Coach at the University of St. Thomas.

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