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Understanding Tiger Woods: finding the man behind the tiger

By Peter West - posted Wednesday, 13 January 2010


So much has been written about Tiger Woods that any sane person is daunted.

Google tells the story: if Tiger Googled himself, he could read about himself all day for weeks. There are millions of entries for jokes about Tiger Woods; and millions for the Tiger Woods “affair”. And Tiger Woods’ women. There is a Tiger website and so on. You can even check out Tiger Woods on Facebook and ask Tiger “who he is rooting for”… Let’s leave that one, with its Australian slang meaning, well alone.

In all the millions of words, journalists ask why? And they choose the easy answer. Tiger must be a sex addict. Of course, that explains everything! Now we have given it a name, it must exist (just like metrosexual or snag, though I have never met one of the latter outside a butcher’s shop).

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A sex addict! This is terrific news for all the people in the newly-arrived sex addict industry: for they have set up workshops, 12-step programs, expensive residential retreats and heaven knows what else. It’s given the gossip magazines and the sporting mags heaps more material over the usually-dull Christmas and New Year period. And still many of us wonder, why? Why did he do it? And why the big fuss over it?

Let’s look at a few perspectives.

Tiger sells

A sports journal called him the world’s most marketable athlete. People flock to see him. The Victorian Government said they easily recouped the $3 million fee they paid him. People paid to see him practice. He was the most highly paid professional athlete of 2008. The Tiger Woods phenomenon isn’t about poking a ball into a hole with a stick. It’s about marketing shoes, and hats, and tons of other merchandise: success with a big dollar sign.

As far as sex goes - it is important

Men define themselves by sex. “I’m gay” says one. “I’m straight” says another. Men also define themselves by work and how much money they earn, but sex is an undeniable mark of success for many men.

When males are growing up, it’s important to brag of their conquests: I had a beautiful blonde on Monday and a brunette on Tuesday and she had huge … (we know what’s coming, and it isn’t IQ).

As most men grow up, they lose this mania for listing and counting. They find satisfaction in doing a job well; organising an event; creating a work of art. And they find a quiet joy and pride in raising their children. (I don’t want to talk about gay men here; that’s another story.)

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Some men don’t get past the stage of counting scalps, or blondes, or things. “We did it X times” makes a certain kind of male feel good about himself. Am I OK? How can I tell? For many men, the answer is sex. It’s probably true that most men do think about sex 50 times in an average minute. And without sex, the common man doesn’t feel he’s alive.

Woods is a successful sportsman

As Mike Messner argues, sportsmen grow up with conditional acceptance. “I am OK as long as I am bringing home prizes. If I’m not winning, Dad won’t be happy with me.” Too little is understood about the links between how boys earn their father’s love and the drive for success. The boy who was born Eldrick Tont Woods seems to have sought his father's love and still seeks approval from other men. It’s being never quite secure because you aren’t yet confident about yourself.

Woods is a hero to many

The idea that Americans can go from poverty to riches is at the heart of the ideas America has about itself. The Abraham Lincoln story has been often told as “Log Cabin to White House” with little regard for the facts of the man’s history. America is the land of opportunity and men (more than women) who made good. It’s about opportunity, self-interest, and asserting yourself, becoming important. Woods has transcended his coloured ancestry to become a man envied for his successes. And they are far too many to list here.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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