In the course of the shameful public trial mounted against Tiger Woods on matters that are nobody's business, some of his inquisitors accused him of hypocrisy: Hadn't he played on his good-guy, squeaky-clean image to accumulate his many profitable sponsorships?
Everything is unfair in this sordid exposure of Mr. Woods's intimate life, but this argument is especially unfair. Contrary to the likes of Paris Hilton, whose only occupation is to be a celebrity, Mr. Woods was not a celebrity off the golf course. Far from seeking the spotlight, he jealously guarded his private life. And he never made speeches promoting marital fidelity. All he did was to play golf fabulously well.
This is the only source of his good-guy image - an image due to the fact that he is the most gifted practitioner of the cleanest sport in the world. As Paul Journet, a journalist who covers golf, recently wrote in La Presse, "People had the illusion that Tiger was perfect. To understand why, one must understand his sport."
How true! Many great athletes have a slightly delinquent streak, especially in team and contact sports. Think of Zinédine Zidane in soccer, LeBron James in basketball, Zdeno Chara in hockey. You would never find this type of personality in golf, for golf is a gentlemen's sport.
Golf requires courtesy. Players routinely shake hands after a round and often congratulate each other; they help other players to look for their balls; they repair the damage they've done to the greens and the fairways; they keep silent while others play and wait until the players ahead of them have left the green to play toward the flag.
Golf requires honesty. Outside tournaments, which are controlled, it would be easy to cheat at golf. You could discreetly move your ball without taking a penalty, conveniently "forget" to add one or two strokes on your score card, and so on. But real golfers never cheat - it would take the challenge and the fun out of the game.
Golf requires exceptional mental abilities. It is arguably the most intellectually demanding sport. One must pay attention to the smallest details and develop an extraordinary capacity to concentrate. The game is as difficult to play as it is easy to understand, and it brings a great deal of frustration. Even very good golfers have their bad days. So they learn to be patient and to master their emotions. Needless to say, drugs and booze mix poorly with golf; even strong coffee might interfere with concentration.
Golfers basically play against themselves, endlessly striving for self-improvement. Golf is a hopeless and solitary quest for perfection. No wonder that, on the green, golf champions look like the embodiment of self-control, seriousness, honesty and responsibility - near-perfect human beings.
Tiger Woods, as the best golfer in the world, was and still is the very embodiment of these qualities. And what he does once he's left the 18th hole, when he stops being an athlete and becomes a human being, should be of no concern to anyone outside his family.
Alas, privacy is a value that's disappearing, in a world where YouTube, Facebook and the countless bloggers hidden behind pseudonyms have exponentially increased the tabloid culture of voyeurism and where it's now taken for granted that any public figure can become fodder for the masses' basest instincts on the pretext that this is, as they say, "the ransom of glory" - as if glory due to extraordinary talent and extraordinary hard work were an undeserved gift bestowed by some unfair god.
Add to this toxic mixture the self-appointed holier-than-thou moral preachers who take upon themselves the task of judging the private behaviour of others and you have a proud man forced to humiliate himself by confessing his "sins" to millions of people he's absolutely not accountable to. What a pity.