TIGER WOODS – A PROTECTED SPECIES OR PUSHED TO EXTINCTION?

As mere mortals, people have always reveled in the perceived superhuman feats of professional athletes. We begrudge their talents and dream of their rock star lifestyles, manifesting in a form of jealousy that we can only accept by living vicariously through these talented sports men and women. Such is the public’s obsession, the lives of today’s sporting stars are becoming increasingly cast into to the public eye under an intensifying media microscope. It seems nothing is off limits when it comes to documenting the private lives of the modern day athlete, and their lingers a certain unspoken expectation of how they are to behave as role models to so many. It comes as no surprise then that when professional athletes become shroud in controversy, as they so often do, the media reaction can be immense.

Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer of all time, is one such high profile sportsman whose private life has become illuminated by the media.

“Tiger, the superhuman golfer, has been the focus of unprecedented media commentary. Woods has been the biggest story in golf.”                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                       (Barbie & Hackenberg 2012, p.2)

Like many generational sportsman, “one cannot simply summarize the full significance of the Tiger Woods phenomenon. Tiger Woods changed everything. Golf became a sport…and most importantly, the sport and the players were now cool” (Barbie 2012, p.1). “Tiger was the only player who took golf from the fourth or fifth page of the sports section not only to the front page, but also the front page of the newspaper” (Lavner 2015).

An analysis into his portrayal in the media is intriguing, depicting an on-going fixation that has seen Woods described as everything from a “cultural icon” (Barbie 2012, p.2) to a “disgraced celebrity who became the embodiment of entitlement and arrogance” (Massarotti 2015). Following on from his shock admission to extra marital affairs and sex addiction in 2009, Tiger’s career has been defined by his actions away from the course. “Although the everyman Tiger tried mightily to cordon off his ‘regular’ life, those efforts ultimately proved futile. Suddenly, the everyman was exposed” (Barbie 2012, p.3). Love him or hate him, Woods is now regarded as one of the most polarizing and controversial athletes of all time.

For the purpose of this media analysis, my aim is to showcase how Tiger’s personal struggles have plagued his characterization and representation in the media. Firstly, I will analyze two opinion pieces from 2009/2010, (the immediate aftermath of Tiger’s infidelity) “Tiger Woods will never recover from this scandal,” an opinion piece appearing on newsone.com (author not quoted), and “Letting Tiger off the hook with ‘sex addiction’ tale would be a cop out,” written by S.E Cupp of nydailynews.com. These two views journalism pieces are similar in their view in painting a negative picture of Tiger, largely indicative of the general media and public evaluation of Woods at the time. Both texts focus largely on the extreme fall from grace Wood’s experienced during this period, and how his image, an image that had taken decades to build, was suddenly in tatters.

In comparison, for the second phase of my analysis, I will dissect two current evaluative articles, “Tiger Wood’s 5 years of scandal and misery since infamous crash,” written by Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post, and “Tiger Woods is back – But still on the endangered list,” a piece by Eamon Lynch for newsweek.com. Looking at a current representation of Wood’s media profile reveals that he is still haunted by his mistakes, even though some seven years have passed since news first broke of his infidelity. Despite this, these texts also communicate how the contemporary media representation of Tiger has softened over the years. Vilified for some time, these two articles instead adopt a more concerning tone for the fallen star. Although it would be foolish to assume that this basic assumption is representative of the wider public opinion of Woods, it does nevertheless offer an insight into both articles assumed readerships. A readership that has seemingly forgotten or forgiven Woods for his misdemeanors, and above all else wishes to see him back on the course, performing in his ‘Sunday red.’

 

Tiger Wood’s cheating scandal first came to light on the 25th November 2009, when The National Enquirer published a story claiming Woods had had an extramarital affair with a New York City nightclub manager named Rachel Uchitel. Over the ensuing days, more than a dozen women claimed through various media outlets to have had affairs with Woods. For the first time, Woods’ squeaky-clean image had been severely tainted. With his own startling admission of infidelity, thus began a media frenzy that engulfed the world’s best golfer.

We can gauge this immediate and unfavorable media reception of Wood’s by firstly delving into the newsone.com article, entitled “Tiger Woods will never recover from this scandal.” From the outset, the author explicitly passes judgement on Woods by brandishing his actions as a ‘scandal.’ This label communicates a negative perception of Woods in it’s meaning, to which scandal denotes “any action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage” (Cambridge English Dictionary). For a reader who may have no preconceived notions about Tiger Wood’s or his transgressions, this use of scandal creates an instant negative connotation. The fact that the author states that it is a scandal he will never recover from, only serves to further its severity. “I think it (the cheating scandal) will always be with him” (Lapchick, quoted by newsone.com, 2009).

In addition, the author positions readers to perceive Wood’s negatively by describing his actions as “so far out of bounds of what anyone considers normal behavior” (Lapchick, quoted by newsone.com, 2009). The underlying assumption, or warrant used here assumes that a reader will have an understanding of what constitutes ‘normal behavior,’ and thus they will have the necessary foresight to deduce cheating as something that is rare or unacceptable. Instead, Tiger is portrayed as someone who lived his life outside the constraints of these acceptable ‘social norms,’ further distinguishing him as an ‘outsider.’ In this way, the author effectively employs the classic use of the Ad Populum argument, creating a view amongst readers that infidelity is a sin by in which the author knows would be a universally held opinion. This doubles as a clear appeal to both popular opinion and precedent, as again, the author expects a reader to view her assertions through a similar mindset, that being the traditional negative view of being unfaithful.

However, the author’s primary tool in constructing a negative representation of Wood’s is through their description of the number of people and parties Wood’s has let down by his actions. As the article states:

“In a lot of ways Tiger Woods has broken the hearts of a lot of people who looked at him as a role model who was above all those things. An African-American athlete who totally transcended race and dominated a sport like no one else seemed to have this perfect life. It turned out not to be true”

                                                       (Lapchick, quoted by newsone.com, 2009)

Such emotionally laden quotes allude to the notion that as Wood’s is such an inspirational and influential figure, not just in the sport of golf but also in they eyes of the general population, he should have known better. “It’s so far the opposite of what we thought that it makes it so much more dramatic” (Lapchick, quoted by newsone.com, 2009). In this way, the author expresses a clear appeal to precedent and customary practice. The sense of shock and surprise also expressed by the author, gives a reader the impression that Tiger had ‘duped them,’ as it seemed he lived a “perfect life.” Again, the underlying warrant at play here is that sport stars, celebrities, or anyone in the public eye, have a select way of behaving, a way in which Tiger Wood’s clearly did not uphold.

 

This negative representation of Wood’s is similarly shared in S.E. Cupp’s article for the New York Daily News, entitled, “Letting Tiger off the hook with ‘sex addiction’ tale would be a cop out.” As explicitly stated in her headline, Cupp approaches her article with consideration to the social and medical agents that ‘supposedly’ played a role in Wood’s extra marital affairs. As Cupp states, “ we can stop questioning his (Tiger Woods) character, for this (his infidelity) – we’re being told – is a medical issue” (Cupp 2009). Immediately, a reader would be able to detect Cupp’s use of sarcasm, effectively portraying her belief that sex addiction is an insufficient excuse used by Wood’s and his people to attempt to salvage his image. This is a clear use of the Non-Sequitur fallacy by Cupp, as she claims that there is no evidence to suggest that a link exists between sex addiction and infidelity. Cupp goes on to dismiss the legitimacy of sex addiction, stating “the affliction may be real, but it also keeps us from acknowledging the immorality of our actions” (Cupp, 2009). Instead, Cupp urges her readers to share in her attitudinal inferences through the factual implications (appeals to facts) of Wood’s scandal. She bluntly states that the “facts here are pretty simple. Woods made repeated and calculated decisions to deceive and hurt his family. For that he should get no sympathy” (Cupp, 2009). Cupp adapts emotive language in a bid to portray Tiger as ‘in control’ of his decisions, further dismissing the legitimacy of the ‘sex addiction ‘ argument. The use of “repeated” and “calculated,” position a reader to view Tiger as a deceitful husband who pulled the wool over the eyes of not only his family, but also the public. In communicating these subjective evaluations as fact, Cupp constructs the perception that Wood’s actions were indisputably unacceptable.

Thus, in assessing the myriad of media reaction to Wood’s startling admission of infidelity, the vast majority of commentators, including that of newsone.com and Cupp, looked down on the incident with a highly negative view. Many authors expressed shock and repugnance at the actions of Woods, a characterization typically shared by that of the broader society. These conclusions contribute to a universal stance on extra marital affairs that has existed for centuries, that “one thou shalt not commit adultery.” Both authors adopt this way of thinking through a strong use of appeals, primarily through precedent and facts. Both authors quite confidently assume their audience will be like-minded in negatively assessing Wood’s actions, such is the negative undertone associated with infidelity and cheating. As such, Woods’ image went from being extraordinary, to ordinary overnight, as “the media published every possible aspect of his all-too-human problems and weaknesses” (Barbie 2012, p.3). The 2009 media portrayal of Tiger Woods exposed him for what he really was, a “flawed human being” (Shipnuck 2016) who selfishly lied and deceived for so long in order to protect his own artificial identity.

 

Having established the meteoric capitulation of Tiger Wood’s public image after his extra marital affairs, a media analysis into the current characterization of Tiger Woods presents a number of interesting findings about the way the media continues to portray his struggles.

Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post, presents a post mortem of the life of Tiger Wood’s some five years after he admitted to extra marital affairs in his piece, “Tiger Wood’s 5 years of scandal and misery since infamous crash.” As we can see explicitly from the headline, Cyrgalis positions his readers to feel slightly sympathetic for Woods and the ‘misery’ he has endured for such a long time. This attitudinal positioning is maintained by Cyrgalis throughout his article, interestingly and most notably through the antagonist of Wood’s ex-wife, Elin Nordegren. Cyrgalis writes in such a way that he invites a reader to view Nordegren as equally responsible for the mental demons Tiger has faced since their divorce. Cyrgalis writes:

“He (Woods) went from having the public image of a loving husband and father of two adorable children, to that of a single dad having to carve time out of his globetrotting schedule. Of his reported $1 billion in career earnings, he had to give half to Elin, who has seemingly moved on with her life and managed to get on just fine.”

                                                                                                         (Cyrgalis, 2014)

For an audience, this position taken by Cyrgalis asks them to consider the sacrifices that Wood’s has had to endure ever since news broke of his scandal in 2009. Cyrgalis positions a reader to view Wood’s sympathetically, portraying him as the only one who has been hurt following the divorce as his ex-wife Elin was “seemingly” able to “get on just fine.” Cyrgalis then uses an appeal to facts, stating that Tiger had to give up half of his career earnings, a reported “$1 billion,” in the divorce settlement. In this way, Cyrgalis positions the reader to view Nordegren as money-hungry, who never really loved Wood’s, such was her unemotional response to their divorce. Finally, Cyrgalis uses an appeal to emotion by describing Tiger as a “single dad” who now has to carve out his own time to see his children. This is a clear use of appeals to emotion from Cyrgalis, evoking sympathy for Wood’s for the fact that he struggles to see his children, a right of being a parent. Again, this evokes strong sympathy amongst readers for Woods, positioning them to consider all the things he has ‘lost’ out on because of the scandal. Thus, we can clearly see in Cyrgalis’s article a shift in the characterization of Tiger Wood’s in the media. Contrary to how he was represented in 2009, Wood’s is now viewed sympathetically for the hardships he has had to endure since the scandal.

 

“Tiger Woods is back – But still on the endangered list,” an article by Eamon Lynch of newsweek.com, is a similar evaluative piece that showcases this current ‘softened’ media representation of Woods following on from his scandal of extra marital affairs in 2009. The article by Lynch, published in October 2016, details Tiger’s announcement that he would be making a return to competitive golf in December following three years away from the game. Interestingly, Lynch’s article makes no direct reference to Wood’s infidelity, yet subtly alludes to Wood’s struggles in his time away from the game. We can first analyse this characterization by Lynch through his headline, “Tiger Woods is back – But still on the endangered list.” By choosing to evaluate Woods as “endangered,” positions the reader to view Wood’s as diminished and at risk of being lost forever. This innately, albeit in-explicitly communicates Lynch’s primary claim that Tiger is not fully ready to return to competitive golf, and that without doubt Wood’s is still battling with his demons.

Lynch reiterates this representation of Tiger, that he is still not yet up to the stresses of week-to-week competitive golf, through his use of subtle evaluative triggers. Lynch writes, “His (Wood’s) expectations are low,” “the notion of him winning seems fantastical,” and “returning is a physical and psychological gamble for Woods” (Lynch 2016). These quotes from Lynch clearly represent Wood’s as harboring both physical and emotional stresses in his life. For a reader, this undeniably positions them to feel a sense of concern for Wood’s, not just through his physical capacity to play golf, but also in his mental capacity to compete.

Lynch continues to represent Tiger in this way by noting how much the game has changed in his absence. As Lynch writes:

“The landscape has altered greatly in his absence. His most recent appearance came earlier this month, when he served as a non-playing assistant for the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team. Yet at the post-match press conference he was an afterthought, the recipient of a single, flaccid question near the end of proceedings.”

                                                                                                       (Lynch 2016)

By citing just how much the game has changed in his absence, Lynch also points to the fact that Tiger has been somewhat forgotten. “Wood’s has been golf’s ghostly cipher – seldom seen, often spoken of, but ousted from headlines by a younger generation” (Lynch 2016). For a reader, this conjures a feeling of nostalgia, and again sympathy, for that fact that Wood’s has been away from the game he mastered so many years ago as a result of his hardships. However, Lynch plays on this nostalgia, attempting to create excitement for his readers by stating, “He (Woods) is back playing, and he’s the biggest story in sports. Again” (Lynch 2016). In this way, Lynch creates a sense of optimism amongst his readers for Tiger’s return.

 

Thus, having analyzed a more current representation of Tiger Wood’s in the media we can clearly see this shift in the way he has been characterized. In 2009, Wood’s was severely tainted by the media, represented as a cold and disgraced celebrity who abused his entitlement for individual self-worth. Some seven years later, it is clear that Tiger Wood’s will live with the scandal for the rest of his life, however it is slowly fading to the background. Without question, the media’s stance on Tiger in 2016 is far more concerned for his well-being and his struggles in attempting to reconfigure his life and damaged image. Ultimately, like any fan, the media wishes to see Tiger back to what he did best, awing crowds with his unbelievable golf game. One thing is for sure, one cannot see a time in the foreseeable future where Tiger will not attract headlines from the media, such is his human interest. “Because of his iconic status, Wood’ adherence to the rules (or lack thereof) is always on public display” (Barbie 2012, p.6).

 

REFERENCES:

Newsone Staff Writers – “Tiger Woods will never recover from this scandal.” – 2009. http://newsone.com/383542/opinion-tiger-woods-will-never-recover-from-this-scandal/

 S.E. Cupp –“Letting Tiger off the hook with ‘sex addiction’ tale would be a cop out.”– December 9th, 2009. http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tiger-woods-hook-alleged-affairs-sex-addiction-defense-article-1.434969

Brett Cyrgalis – “Tiger Wood’s 5 years of scandal and misery since infamous crash.” – November 26th, 2014. http://nypost.com/2014/11/26/tiger-woods-5-years-of-scandal-and-misery-since-infamous-crash/

Eamon Lynch –“Tiger Woods is back – But still on the endangered list.” – October 10th, 2016. http://www.newsweek.com/tiger-woods-back-still-endangered-list-508006?utm_source=internal&utm_campaign=incontent&utm_medium=related2

Lorne Rubinstein – “Tiger’s Private Struggles.” http://time.com/tiger/?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange

Mark Seal – “The Temptation of Tiger Woods.” – May 2nd, 2010. http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2010/06/tiger-woods-article-full-201006

Ryan Lavner – “Tiger at 40: Why Tiger Woods still matters.” December 16th, 2015. http://www.golfchannel.com/news/ryan-lavner/tiger-40-why-tiger-woods-still-matters/

Donna J. Barbie – “The Tiger Woods Phenomenon. Essays on the Cultural Impact of Golf’s Fallible Superman.” – McFarland and Company Inc. Publishers, North Carolina, 2012

Matthew Paul Neapolitan – “Athletes vs. the Media. Right to Privacy v. the Public Right to Know.” University of Tennessee (Knoxville), 1997.