The Great Lie Of Tiger Woods, And The Truth About Us

Every time it danced along the screen, I couldn’t help but chuckle in disbelief. On Friday night I was at friends house with a big group of people, and in the background the Washington Wizards were playing the Miami Heat on ESPN. And every five minutes, on the "bottom line" that scrolls news from the day in sports, someone else from the room would notice the ridiculous story:

Tiger Woods released from hospital following treatment for injuries from "minor car accident outside his home" early Friday, Woods' publicist Glenn Greenspan says. Woods, alone in his SUV, hit a fire hydrant and a tree as he pulled out of his driveway, accordiing to police.

Police say Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, heard accident and used golf club to smash out back window of SUV, then helped him get out. Officers found Woods lying in street with cuts on his lips, blood in his mouth, and drifting in and out of consciousness, Police believe alcohol was not a factor in crash, which is still under investigation.

This isn't to single out the worldwide leader; this is what EVERYONE was reporting. It the party-line from Woods' camp, the Florida police refused to openly contradict the story, and it'd be a bit presumptuous for a mainstream news organization to deviate from Tiger's account. He was the victim, after all.

But I mean… Go ahead and re-read that second paragraph.

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Part of what made this such a watershed news story was its context. While most of America slept off a holiday hangover and lounged around eating leftovers, there wasn't supposed to be much news. The Alabama game was the only event on Black Friday that had the potential for intrigue, and even that captivated only a fraction of sports fans. Even in 2009, with the age of the 24-hour news cycles, sometimes there's just not much going on.

So when the Orlando Sentinel put forth the words "TIGER WOODS" and "CAR CRASH" and "SERIOUS CONDITION" in conjunction with one another, it instantly shook us all out of a turkey-induced haze. In a matter of minutes, watching TV and surfing the internet went from an "oh, what the hell" time-waster, to a "Wait wait wait, WHAT THE HELL?" exercise in collective panic.

It says a lot about the level of celebrity that Tiger Woods has reached that within the hour, there were thousands of stories all across the internet and CBS was breaking into its coverage of the Alabama game every fifteen minutes with updates on his condition. It was like that everywhere. The way our media works these days, all news travels in the span of milliseconds, but when something BIG happens, it's almost otherwordly how quickly the narratives get spun and the whole world begins paying attention.

And Tiger Woods, possibly in serious condition after a late-night car accident? That was HUGE.

Which is why the way we all processed the news is still so puzzling to me. Because again, we're talking about 2009. And that means a lot of different things. For one, Twitter has rendered much of past news' virtues obsolete; narrative and backstory have been replaced by instantaneous news, hashtag conversations, and glib, 140-character analysis. it's an era of information overload, much of which tends to be misinformation or facts colored by bias.  And the audience, met with this onslaught of information and the threadbare wisdom of tweeted opinions, is left to resort to cynicism toward much of what they're asked to process.

Who can blame them? It's part of what makes blogs so successful. In the absence of blind faith in mainstream outlets, we gather our information from the handful of independent sources we can trust. The media's been de-centralized not because of some big, scary tornado of technology that's swept up the masses and rendered newspapermen obsolete. But because technology's provided increased access to opinions all across the globe, and the more we see, the more we realize that, you know what, EVERYONE, in one way or another, is kind of full of crap.

And that's what makes the internet worth it. If people are full of crap, we eventually find out. Beyond all the drawbacks mentioned above, it forces even the biggest conglomerates to be transparent about the way they operate. Celebrities, politicians, athletes, and even the writers themselves, charged with covering everything--if you operate with some double life and move illicitly in the shadows, before long it'll come to light. There's just too many eyes these days, and too many voices out there, to miss the truth. Nobody gets a free pass. Except Tiger Woods, it seems.

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Let's take a look WHY, exactly, the story in its current form is so patently absurd. First and foremost, there's the context of his accident. Leaving his house at 2 in the morning. Now, on any night, this might be cause for suspicion for a married man with two kids, but on THANKSGIVING? A lady on the local news wondered, "Why would he be leaving at 2:30 in the morning? It's just so out of character. Or maybe he was going to get something for the baby..." Really?

The only reason to rush out of your home at 2:30 in the morning is if you're drunk and Taco Bell's about to close, or you're sober and a woman or man is about to drive you over the edge. Especially on a holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Really, those are the options. And Florida police have made it pretty clear that alcohol played no role in the crash. Yet they persisted, at least early on, in saying "charges are pending." ... Charges for what?

 

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Hitting a fire hydrant? Smashing into a tree? Granted, it's generally considered poor form to run over a fire hydrant, but unless you're drunk or make a serial habit of destroying fire hydrants, it's not the sort of thing that warrants criminal charges or an "ongoing investigation." At worst, we're talking about a fine for property damages. And yet, as every report emerged Friday and outlets like the Sentinel had the chance to update their stories and get all the facts in order, we kept hearing "The investigation is ongoing, and charges may be pending."

Which brings us to that second paragraph again:

Police say Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, heard accident and used golf club to smash out back window of SUV, then helped him get out. Officers found Woods lying in street with cuts on his lips, blood in his mouth, and drifting in and out of consciousness, Police believe alcohol was not a factor in crash, which is still under investigation.

So just to be clear. Tiger Woods was in the front seat, and to save him, his wife smashed in the back window of his SUV, after which the tiny Swedish woman would drag a 185 pound man over two sets of seats, across shattered glass, and out the back window of the SUV. If that's true... Was SHE drunk? Did the car door not work? And how does a man suffer cuts on his face and lips, to the point of unconsciousness, all from hitting fire hydrant and a tree. What's the worst that could possibly happen? Whiplash?

Given the circumstances above, I'll let you guess what may have really happened, because the truth is, we'll probably never know. And it's not important, anyway. What matters, though, is that the story we all heard? That's been reported for going on three days now? THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN. And it's obvious to anyone with a pulse.

The friends I was with Friday night--mostly girls--kept gawking at the story not because they were shocked it was Tiger Woods, but because they were shocked that anyone could conceive such a ridiculous story.

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The reason any of this merits discussion isn't because Tiger Woods had an argument on Thanksgiving and left his house in a huff, only to be attacked by his wife. That may have happened, but it's not important. He's human. A human with an impeccable facade and hundreds of millions of dollars, but a person nonetheless. Anyone that mistook him for a deity, or as some pillar of morality in an increasingly depraved sports culture, did so at their own expense and owing to phenomenal naivete.

What makes this so troubling, though, is the context. Again, it was Black Friday. Slower-than-slow news cycle, and suddenly, everyone's focused on this one, gigantic story. And somehow, everyone in the media got it wrong. Or refused to get it right. Tiger Woods wasn't just a piece of the national narrative, but for a good portion of Friday, he WAS the national narrative.

And for some reason, nobody could be honest with themselves about what might have happened down in Orlando on Thanksgiving night. It may have been coincidence that days before his accident, Tiger was at the center of an extensive National Enquirer expose concerning an extramarital affair. But coincidence or not, you heard nary a mention of it.

It was like, overnight, the media pretended that its audience would take everything at face value, nobody had access to the internet to investigate the Tiger Woods infidelity rumors, and we'd all just believe that Elin Woods was trying to save her husband that night by smashing out his rear windshield. And suddenly, the only outlets with the audacity to acknowledge the elephant in the room were TMZ, the National Enquirer, and a host of other independent sites that operate beyond the bounds of traditional journalism. But why?

Just because Tiger Woods is collectively viewed as an upstanding citizen, it doesn't mean he's not human, and it doesn't mean that we should be deprived of an honest conversation about what might have happened that night. If this were an athlete like Allen Iverson or Michael Vick, the pendulum would swing the other way, and it wouldn't even be a question. Then, instead of a "car accident" we'd be talking about "what was clearly a domestic dispute," and there'd be all sorts of talking heads bloviating about the lapsed values of today's superstars.

What makes Tiger Woods immune to such judgment? It's a question worth considering, not because we should all be talking about lapsed family values and the foibles of golf's greatest superstar, but because the answer reveals more about us and our current media than it ever could Tiger. The whole world was watching, and outlets like CNN and ESPN refused to discuss the whole story.

Like it or not, The National Enquirer's part of that story. They broke the story of John Edwards' affair; who's to say they were off base on this one? And TMZ. When they reported Woods said his injuries came from his wife, not the accident, what makes that out of bounds? It's a shame that much of the media has taken a holier-than-thou stance on mentioning these completely valid reports; we don't have to validate any of it, but by refusing to mention the news, it shortchanges the integrity of the process.

Instead, all we can do is whisper amongst ourselves and check TMZ. And for any sane person following the news in the mainstream, the only logical conclusion you could make is to say that in this era of transparency, freedom of information, and all the other virtues that mitigate the internet's shortcomings, there are some people that are just beyond reproach.

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So Tiger Woods is NOT human, after all.

Allen Iverson, Michael Vick, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire... All human. We've taken them all to task for various shortcomings, and stopped at nothing to prosecute them in the court of public opinion, all in the name of some mythic sense of "justice." But some people are immune to cross-examination, apparently.

The news is supposed to reflect the truth about individuals and society, and often times that truth is complicated. But in this case--after watching a few days of coverage on ESPN and CNN and hearing the same backwards story put forth for consumption--the message from the media is simple and its reflection on society rings loud and clear: sometimes, our media would rather we believe a lie than have a conversation that truth might require.

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