In journalism, it’s called burying the lead.
It’s the transgression of tucking the most important part of a story several paragraphs down, instead of in the opening, where it belongs.
Tiger Woods buried the lead.
First, Woods, the disgraced golfer, pitchman, and icon, doesn’t owe me an apology. He doesn’t owe you one, either. Or the person to your left, to your right, behind you, or in front of you.
The only people to whom he owes a big old “I’M SORRY” are his family and the companies who hired him to sponsor and promote their goods and services. That’s it.
I watched Woods slog through his scheduled statement on television on Friday, as did millions of others—also to whom Woods owes no apology, by the way—and while I found the dramatic pauses and looks into the camera and heavy sighs to be a little too rehearsed for my liking, I didn’t hear what was truly important until several minutes into the monologue.
Woods said, finally, about 10 minutes into his spiel, that he needs help, and has been getting it, by way of therapy—for some 45 days or so.
That was what he should have begun with; that was his lead, and he buried it.
I’ve never been a fan of the public apology. It’s the ultimate closing of the barn door after the horses are out.
“I’m sorry that I got caught,” is what the deliverer of such an apology is really saying. And don’t get me started on the apologies that, in reality, place the blame on those harmed.
“I’m sorry if you were offended,” is how those apologies go.
But Woods, at least, admitted that he needs help for his problem, which seems to be addictive in nature. That his addiction comes in the form of something that looks like 36-24-36 doesn’t make it any less problematic, or that which shouldn’t be taken seriously.
I don’t know what else you can ask from someone, if they admit to a problem, albeit a tad late, and take steps to get help for that problem.
The apology that comes without that addendum isn’t much of an apology; it’s merely a bone tossed to the masses over which we are to fight.
Tiger Woods, I’ve written before, is the Muhammad Ali of our time.
Ali, at his peak, was the most recognizable athlete in the world. You could argue he was the most recognizable person in the world. He dominated his sport and dwarfed his competition, both in terms of ability and charisma and largesse. When he left the sport briefly—forced out because of avoiding the draft—boxing wasn’t even close to the same as when he was in it. When he returned, so did boxing.
Woods dominates golf now like no man before him. I’ve seen Nicklaus and Palmer and Norman and Watson and Miller, and none of them distanced themselves as far from the rest of the field as Woods now has from his brethren.
Woods doesn’t yap like Ali did, but that doesn’t make him any less famous or iconic. There’s Tiger Woods, and then there’s the rest of the PGA tour members. He’s the dragon they all try like mad to slay every weekend, and just about every Sunday they fail.
But no golfer, that we know of, ever did the kinds of things that Woods has now admitted—to a degree—to doing. None of them ever had to schedule TV time to look their public in the peepers and say “sorry.”
But it’s not the “sorry” that’s important here. Anyone can get their hand caught in the cookie jar and schedule a time to publicly express regret. And they have.
But it’s taking that extra step—the admission of an addiction to cookies, for example—and seeking professional help that gives the public apology some credence.
Woods said that he plans on returning to golf someday, though he readily admitted that he has no idea when that day might come. He is rightfully placing his therapy and treatment on the front burner. Golf will always be there, waiting, when Woods is ready to grip a club again.
Woods says he has a long way to go—and he probably wasn’t just referring to his treatment. He has a marriage to repair, and that may not even be possible. Golf will always be waiting, but his wife might not.
Woods has a long way to go with his public, too, though that should be of less concern to him. He doesn’t have to be popular to make more money in golf. He doesn’t have to be the sport’s darling anymore to continue to dominate it.
Tiger Woods is a man with human frailties and an obvious weakness, and he’s paid the price for that. Now he is moving to fix it. I don’t know what else anyone should want other than that.
The apology was fine, but not necessary. He didn’t cheat on me. He didn’t cheat on you. He didn’t cheat on anyone other than his lovely wife and his beautiful children. Oh, and he cheated himself, for he may have lost that lovely wife and thus broken up what, on the surface, appeared to be a happy home.
He may have lost all that truly matters. No amount of Masters wins or U.S. Open victories or contracts to hawk Gillette products can make up for that kind of loss.
The end of this story, this cautionary tale, hasn’t been written.
But Woods is seeking help. He’s taken the first baby step to reparations.
That’s far more important than any “I’m sorry.”