Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What passes for integrity in Georgia these days?

Many years ago, before we had children, I used to accompany my husband on a golf outing once a year. No, we weren’t golfers – at least, I wasn’t. Our trips were work-related. He spent several years working as a videographer for a number of clients, attending PGA tour events annually from April to August.

Because of a personal friendship with one tournament’s producer, I was invited to accompany my husband to that particular event every spring. While my husband worked as a cameraman, following specific golfers around the course, or shooting every stroke on specific fairways or greens, I held such important jobs as labeling videotapes and driving the cart. Clearly, not exactly something that needed my personal touch but it did give me the opportunity to spend a long weekend on a gorgeous course and watch some great golfers once a year.

I remember one specific exchange that happened on the course one year, and in light of Mr. Woods’ return to Augusta next month, I think it bears some contemplation. As I sat down – inside the rope line, mind you, courtesy of my “press” credentials – I slipped off my sandals to revel in the gorgeous spring weather and feel the soft, warm grass under my feet. No sooner had I touched a baby toe onto the carpet that covers a golf course when one of the “officials” stepped over to me and quietly requested that I slip my feet back into my sandals and keep them there, thank you very much.

Because of the horrified look on his face, I have to assume that sitting barefoot on a golf course – especially during a PGA event - was simply not done by anyone with any sense of decorum. It wasn’t appropriate or accepted behavior. It wasn’t polite or properly respectful of the course and the people surrounding me. This wasn’t a weekend at the beach, for God’s sake. This was the PGA! Have some pride, woman! A little dignity!

Now, I’m well aware that a bare foot on a tournament observer, even if she is “working” at the event, is a far cry from shocking behavior but it sure felt like it was. And as I said, I can’t help but remember this feeling of humiliation as Mr. Woods is about to step foot onto Augusta National Golf Course and claim his place back on the tour. Sure, he’ll be wearing shoes but what about everything else he did to sully the dignity of the game?

My husband tells me my logic is flawed here. Whatever Woods did – he did off the course. He didn’t exactly debauch Magnolia Lane or the Amen Corner. Had he done so, tournament officials – even the PGA itself – may have been well within their rights to request that he remove himself from their event, even if only for a probationary period. Plus, he’s not exactly the first pro-golfer who turned out to be a cheating scumbag, despite a pristine reputation.

But my contention is that at this point in Woods’ career, it’s difficult to separate the professional golfer from the very highly compensated spokesperson he became as a result of his athletic prowess. From the admirable, upstanding family man he conjured up for the viewing public, which is about as far from reality as you could get with this guy.

So the question is: if a prominent person acts in a way that is morally questionable (at best) in personal life, must they somehow make up for that behavior by bowing out of the public life that helped them achieve their prominence? Depends on the person, I guess. And the act. Elliott Spitzer resigned his governorship. John Edwards withdrew from political life. Senator John Ensign resigned his committee leadership after admitting an affair with a campaign worker. Governor Jim McGreevey resigned after admitting his sexual orientation and his affair. ESPN fired commentator Steve Phillips following his disclosure of an affair with a younger co-worker.

On the other hand, Letterman is still behind his desk. Mark Sanford is governing South Carolina. Bill Clinton never resigned for God’s sake after having an extra-marital affair in the workplace, aka The Oval Office, with a much younger associate.

Maybe none of this would bother me so much if I didn’t remember the look on that guy’s face when he more or less asked me to behave myself and cover my bare feet. If golf is so pure; if it’s so respectable and mannerly and played by gentlemen, how could it ignore Tiger Woods' cheating? Why is it so easy to separate the athlete from his actions?

According to the PGA website, it makes enormous sense for Woods to rejoin the tour in Augusta. The Masters Tournament is among the most restricted sporting events in the world. “Media credentials are limited even in normal circumstances, and the club has tight control over who gets in. Some fans with season badges risk losing them forever for violating rules, such as being caught with a cell phone or a camera. Among the rules: No running.

Most players expect Woods to be heckled, although not as much -- if any -- at the Masters.

"That's why Augusta makes such good sense…There's less of that than anywhere else. Everyone is afraid to lose their ticket. The etiquette and behavior is far better than anywhere else because of the fear factor."

Legendary Augusta stories abound, including the (possibly exaggerated) one about sportscaster Jack Whitaker referring to the Augusta fans as a “mob” and subsequently being asked to remove himself from the proceedings by club president Clifford Roberts. Augusta National and the Master's Tournament refused television sponsors for more than two years after the national outcry about having no women among their members. Says a little something about the club's ability to finance a network broadcast from its own resources.

Augusta can be prickly but it seems to be consistently prickly. If anyone in the world of professional golf had had the guts to shun Woods and make a statement about honor and integrity, it would have been Augusta National. But they didn’t. And that’s just a little disappointing.


Anonymous said...

haha. golf is such a snooty sport - i'm happy you took your shoes off - you should have ripped your shirt off, too. how would they have liked you then?

renee said...

Hmmm, well I suppose I could've done that - and maybe even gotten away with it. I could have said I was one of Tiger's fans. Golf seems to forgive a lot of indiscretions if he's attached to them, right?

Thanks for your comment!

Lou said...

i really enjoyed the article. in today's society it's more of who you are than what you've done that determines how it is treated and how much negative or positive media is given to the person and situation.
It's a sad commentary on how people live their lives and view the world.
Keep up the good work!!!

renee said...

Thanks Lou - I guess some people can just look sad, go to rehab, apologize, and get away with things more easliy than the rest of us. The green ($$) approach to addressing trangressions covers a multitude of sins.

Maybe it's always been that way, and clearly the 24 hours a day media spotlight doesn't help anyone keep secrets anymore.

It's just depressing. I told a friend that even if Tiger acts entirely honorably while playing the game, my bare feet on the course = 18 or 19 extramarital affairs off the course, right? If I got reprimanded for that, he should too. :)

Thanks for your comment.