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Tiger's validation complex

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By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Leave Tiger alone. Enough with the puns -- we get that he's really just a "cheetah" in disguise. Enough with the Barbie-of-the-Day revelations -- we get that he's attracted to a certain type. Enough with the whole thing -- we have far more important things to worry about.

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Yeah, right. Sit down with a friend over lunch and try to have a conversation about health care, climate change, financial regulation or Afghanistan without straying at least once onto the oh-so-unimportant subject of Tiger Woods's philandering. I've given up trying to deny that the unfolding saga is compelling, even if paying attention leaves me feeling a bit disappointed in myself. Prurient interest is rarely something to be proud of.

I'm beginning to fear, actually, that the unfolding may never end. If you're the richest, most famous athlete on the planet, and you have an eye for cocktail waitresses and nightclub hostesses, the opportunities to cheat are probably limited only by the number of hours in the day. It's becoming clear why Woods's initial mea culpa was worded vaguely to cover any and all "transgressions." Wouldn't want to leave anybody out.

I'm not going to pronounce judgment on Woods's moral fiber, except to state that adultery is bad. I'm also not going to judge the women who have reportedly had affairs with him, except to point out how quick they've been, as soon as their names have surfaced, to retain high-priced legal counsel. I will suggest that Woods consider this possibility: Random women he meets in restaurants or bars may not be reduced to putty by his good looks or sparkling wit, but may in fact be aware of how wealthy he is.

I was going to critique Woods's technique of adultery, or at least his apparent selection of playmates, as measured against a theory about philandering developed by my colleague Roxanne Roberts, who has spent years covering the capital's libidinous social scene for The Post. Roberts postulates that famous, powerful men who stray would be smart to choose women who have just as much to lose if the liaison were exposed. Some ultra-rich tycoon's young trophy wife, say, would fit that criterion. Cocktail waitresses and nightclub hostesses, not so much.

In fact, Woods seems to have hooked up with the kind of women who save old voice mails and text messages -- giving their high-priced legal counsel something to work with.

But as more women surface with claims to have bedded Woods, one does begin to marvel at his capacity for multitasking. He is known on the golf course for almost superhuman powers of concentration. Who knew that between shots he was also juggling such complicated logistical arrangements? Or did he have an off-the-course caddie to help with that sort of thing, the way Steve Williams helps him choose between the seven-iron and the eight?

Here's my real question, though: What's with the whole Barbie thing?

No offense to anyone who actually looks like Barbie, but it really is striking how much the women who've been linked to Woods resemble one another. I'm talking about the long hair, the specific body type, even the facial features. Mattel could sue for trademark infringement.

This may be the most interesting aspect of the whole Tiger Woods story -- and one of the most disappointing. He seems to have been bent on proving to himself that he could have any woman he wanted. But from the evidence, his aim wasn't variety but some kind of validation.

I'm making a big assumption here that the attraction for Woods was mostly physical, but there's no evidence thus far that he had a lot of time for deep conversation. If adultery is really about the power and satisfaction of conquest, Woods's self-esteem was apparently only boosted by bedding the kind of woman he thought other men lusted after -- the "Playmate of the Month" type that Hugh Hefner turned into the American gold standard.

But the world is full of beautiful women of all colors, shapes and sizes -- some with short hair or almond eyes, some with broad noses, some with yellow or brown skin. Woods appears to have bought into an "official" standard of beauty that is so conventional as to be almost oppressive.

His taste in mistresses leaves the impression of a man who is, deep down, both insecure and image-conscious -- a control freak even when he's committing "transgressions."

eugenerobinson@washpost.com


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