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Tiger Woods apology: What's real? What do we believe?

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In his first public statement since allegations of infidelity arose in November,Tiger Woods issued a public apology from PGA Tour headquarters on Friday. "I owe it to my family to become a better person," Woods said. "I do plan to return to golf one day."

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By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 20, 2010

We meet here today at the bizarre, powerful and unsettling intersection of real life and celebrity circus, sincerity and corporate calculation, profound apology and ultimate reality TV.

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Wipe that tear of sympathy out of the corner of your eye -- one more tear than Tiger actually shed -- and watch the whole Woods tape again as humiliation, saturation psychotherapy and residual anger all fighting for supremacy in the face of the world's most famous and disgraced athlete. We've reached the hall of emotional mirrors. What's real? Who's playing whom? What do we believe?

There's seldom been a weirder scene than a professional golfer reading a 13-minute, 37-second statement about his serial marital infidelities as a worldwide audience put aside its daily work to hear what would normally be considered a private family confession.

But that's where we live now. Millions will have their own take, few the same.

For me, Woods's apology was strong and believable. I bet he really did write most or all of it. It sounds like him. It's a speech with a voice. He's mortified. He's finally figured out how many people he's hurt -- far beyond just his family. You hear it in words like: So selfish. So sorry. Irresponsible. No one but myself to blame. Unacceptable. This shame. I felt I was entitled.

One word especially hit home. For 14 years in pro golf Woods has presented himself as a symbol of integrity in a game that considers that virtue its very life's blood. Yet he said -- conscious of every word -- "It's time for me to start living a life of integrity."

Start!? Then what's he been living so far? A fraud?

So, probably, Woods really gets it. Integrity is the issue. In golf, he has it. He is utterly true to his talent. In private, he hasn't grasped what it entails -- or not enough for someone who has sold himself, from his foundation to his ads, as a man who drips with it.

When Woods finished, I jotted, "Sincere and complete apology." Then I watched it again. Then you see the stagecraft. Then you see the perfect performance by a public figure, Stanford-educated, who has lived most of his life on TV. Then you realize that Woods touched every issue that an adroit spin-master would insist upon. He even said he wanted to be more "centered" and return to the wisdom of the Buddhism that his mother taught him. True feeling? And real anguish? Almost certainly.

But why do I keep hearing Amy Winehouse singing, "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'No, no, no.' " Woods wants to be taken in earnest in his crisis. But does such foolishness deserve seriousness? How'd you like to be in group therapy, your whole life presumably shredded, then look up to realize that you are in Tiger's group? Now that is bad luck.

Even if we drive our cynicism into a neutral corner, what remains disturbing is everything is still all about Tiger. For a man who has acted so narcissistically, is it really an appropriate punishment, a fitting contrition, to be served a 10-course ego feast like this stop-the-world presidential-style non-news conference?

This guy is just a great golfer, a genius-level athlete and ferociously focused competitor, but nothing more. Three months after tying the 21st century record for tawdry, a mark shared by many, do we really want to say, "Good luck. Welcome back." Every time Tiger uses a big word or draws up a noble sentiment, you have to remind yourself that this isn't tragedy on a grand scale. He's not cheating with Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, mostly ready-to-hand cocktail waitresses and central-casting bimbos.


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