It's been almost a week since the story of Tiger Woods' car crash broke, and the fallout continues to be spectacular. Initial claims of a marital spat have spiralled into tales of affairs, liaisons, and today, reported hush money.
If you read the comments sections on news articles or blogs about the story, you'll often see these sorts of reactions:
"Leave him alone!"
"Give the man some privacy."
"His personal life is not news!."
Sorry, Tiger Woods. Sorry, fans of Tiger Woods. But right now, his personal life is most definitely news.
Tiger Woods is undoubtedly an incredible talent. Possibly the most gifted athlete in the world, certainly one of the most successful of all time and definitely the richest currently getting around.
Part of his appeal has been his smooth public image: from fresh-faced prodigy, to world-conquering demi-god. He's cultivated a media-friendly brand to ensure lucrative sponsorship deals and appearance fees. He garnered a lot of public respect and sympathy in the aftermath of his father's death - Earl Woods was his mentor, and Tiger's deep grief and absence from the golfing circuit after he died reinforced his image as a humble family man.
And it's not to say that none of that is true.
But revelations of alleged extra-marital affairs and the damning release of a voicemail message he left on a woman's phone go against that public image. And news, by definition, is stuff that is new. Tiger winning a championship, earning another million dollars, giving every child in the Niger Delta a Tag Haeur watch? That's not news. That's what we expect.
Tiger allegedly shacking up with a series of cocktail waitresses, then fleeing his Florida home after his wife allegedly came after him with a nine-iron? Now THAT'S news. Much of it is speculatary news of course, but look at the Liberal Party antics over the past week. Speculation often pays off.
Tiger's subsequent online admission of "personal sins" and "transgressions" was a deliberate language choice by the demi-god; casting himself into the role of sinner needing saving. This subtle "mea culpa" position from someone previously so lofty encourages the response of "Leave the man alone! We all make mistakes!". The transgressor becomes the martyr - broken on the catherine wheel of unscrupulous media and 24-hour rolling news coverage.
I don't believe at this stage this turmoil is going to cause Tiger long-term harm. He's got 10-plus years of enduring popularity to fall back on, it's a "first offence" (for want of a better phrase), and the world is somewhat more tolerant of its sports stars - hell, anybody who shows incredible talent seems to be able to get away with a lot more than Joe Average. Tiger's sponsors have so far stated they are standing behind him.
Not to mention - and this is my personal view - that public opinion is still weighted in favour of men when it comes to infidelity. An unfaithful woman is still considered a slightly-more-heinous crime, as there remains among many an expectation that women hold the responsibility for the restraint or embrace of sexual activity. In fact, I would not be surprised to hear some people voice the opinion that they're surprised, given Tiger's fame and fortune, that he hasn't played the field (course?) more.
There will also come recrimination against the women who have made these claims against Tiger - if there's one thing worse than infidelity, it's confessing that infidelity. It wouldn't have been an issue, and Tiger wouldn't have had to suffer, if those ladies did the honourable thing and remained quiet. In Rachel Uchitel's case, she may keep quiet thanks to a payout from Woods; no doubt she will be criticised for that too.
So while I don't judge Tiger Woods for having an affair or two, and I respect he has a right to a certain amount of privacy, I don't believe he should escape public scrutiny entirely. He's a superstar who projected the image of a having a "boring home life", a story which now appears to have cracks in it. It wasn't the women who came forward first; it was a 2:30am car crash at Tiger's own home. His actions will affect the lives of a number of people; most obviously his family and the women he's allegedly been involved with.
He may be a demi-god, but even angels have been known to fall. And it's those flaws - not perfection - that make a story, whether fans like it or not.