Critiquing an Apology

When I heard the news that Tiger Woods was going to make a public apology in the form of a statement to the press, I knew there would be lots of commentary on what he did right and what he did wrong. I expected to hear a variety of opinions on whether or not he was genuinely sorry (for more than getting caught) or just trying to save his product endorsement value. I expected also to have my own opinion.

Public apologies to audiences of "viewers" always seem to share a couple of common threads.

First, they are awkward and unnatural. You can't know the heart of a stranger. I'm sure even Tiger's wife isn't sure she ever knew Tiger's heart (clearly, she did not) and she has been married to him for five years. I would imagine that one of the struggles she has to wrestle with is; Did I ever really know who this man was that I have been married to? And after being fooled for five years, she must wonder how she will ever know his heart, or trust in his sincerity in the future. That level of deceit would be very hard to overcome even with all the desire in the world to make a fresh start. I admire her for not making a snap decision and for caring enough, in the middle of her own pain, to participate in his therapy.

Second, there will always be a perception that the apology is at least to some degree self-serving when offered to cameras. I think a written apology on a website "feels" more sincere than watching a celebrity read from a script. I told John that it came across (to me anyway) as so choreographed that even when he looked directly into the camera, paused, and then said he was so sorry, it almost seemed as if the script might have said "look directly into the camera and pause before offering apology." John's response to this was, "Of course he was awkward and nervous and therefore somewhat mechanical. Can you imagine the shame of acknowledging to the whole world what a piece of c*** you have been?" When he said that, I thought about the shame I have felt in acknowledging my failures in much more intimate settings. I know what that feels like, just not on such a grand stage.

I've heard some commentators praise him for going above and beyond what anyone could have expected. I've heard other commentators say he made mistakes in the way he apologized. I've heard people on the street say he should not have apologized and didn't owe a public apology. But the truth is that if he hopes to regain even some of his endorsement appeal, he does have to address this publicly. It is a private matter and a private betrayal, but he is a very public person who has enjoyed a well-crafted image of "family man" as a part of his "brand." In an interview just prior to the scandal, he said that his family came first above everything, including golf. Clearly, that was not true.

Many of his fans don't care about his personal choices. But many of them do. And those are the ones who feel disappointed and want to hear an apology.

When anyone apologizes to me, I want to believe in their sincerity with all my heart. "If I have done anything to hurt you" and "I'm sorry you feel that way" are obviously not real apologies. But apart from blatant insincerity, I don't feel comfortable to critique an apology or judge it insincere. When I hear someone take ownership of their poor behavior, acknowledging selfishness, a sense of entitlement, deceit and blaming no one else for their lack of integrity and self-absorption, that goes a long way with me (because so many people I have been personally disappointed by have never taken ownership of their selfish choices). I want to believe a person who publicly lists their major character flaws must truly feel remorse. Even Tiger Woods.

As I listened to some of his comments, I wished Tiger could know the love, forgiveness and redemption that is found only in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

I heard one particular commentator on ESPN this morning who had reacted to a certain statement exactly the way I had. He said that when Tiger said, "I hope one day you will be able to find it in your hearts..." he was expecting him to finish the sentence with " forgive me." And instead, Tiger said, "to believe in me again." Maybe it was just a poor choice of words. But believing in Tiger should not be the goal. Believing in Tiger and Tiger's image is the very reason so many are so bitterly disappointed and let down.

I remember when I first saw some glaring flaws in a person I had admired personally and looked to as the hope of the future in a certain setting. When feeling terribly let down by this man's words and priorities, I asked God how it could be unfolding that way. I was devastated. An answer to my question came immediately: You are so bitterly disappointed because you simply took your faith out of one man and put it in another. Your faith should not be in any man.

Images and humans will always let us down in the end. How many times does it have to happen for us to get that lesson? I don't feel disappointed by Tiger Woods because I never saw him through the lens of his public image. I didn't "believe in" Tiger Woods as a person. I wonder why he thinks I should. He was never a hero to me because he was a great golfer. I was not really that surprised that he felt entitled to live any way he wanted and get away with it. I was only surprised that he seemed to think he could keep it a secret forever.

Tim Keller says that we are created for worship. As humans, we WILL worship someone or something. It may not be God. But it will be something. I think the people who are most disappointed probably believed too much in Tiger Woods and his personal greatness. Maybe a few people even worshiped him. In spite of his athletic achievements as a golfer, he is a flawed and broken man in need (by his own admission) of help. I don't think the help he needs is found in Buddhism. The most disappointed I felt (for him, not by him) was when he said that he thought the answer was to turn back to his abandoned Buddhist faith. There are some good principles for living found in the teachings of Buddha. But redemption is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.

I don't feel contempt for Tiger Woods. And I never felt that he owed me an apology. I feel a bit more compassion for his wife than I feel for him. But I do feel compassion for him. I have never excelled at the level he has, nor have I disgraced myself on the level he has. But I relate to him as a broken, flawed person in need of a Savior.


Anonymous said…
Well said, Shari. I felt more disappointment in some of the commentators than I did in Tiger. Not because I think what he did is acceptable in any way but because any human can think that his very mistakes are beneath them. In the absence of Jesus, it is very dark and that darkness penetrates everything and everyone. Thank you, Jesus, for the cross.

Sheryl Linder

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