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i drank champagne with tiger woods
riding a celebrity's coat tails to the moon (and beyond!)
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)
pop culture

The relationship between celebrities and non-celebrities has always been fragile. Even in the Bible, we only know Bathsheba because she had an adulterous affair with one king (David) and gave birth to another (Solomon). Her whole life, for historical purposes, was only recorded because of an act of infamy with the most powerful king in the Old Testament. Had she not been bathing on the rooftop that one day, we would've never known her name.

But Tiger Woods' scandal is the biggest to affect a star of his magnitude in the Internet/Paparazzi/Reality Show age. Sports history (as well as world history) has been littered with those who've abused women, drugs, et cetera, but were beneficiaries of living in less instant times. Ty Cobb was, by most accounts, a cantankerous man, volatile even by early 20th century standards, yet an almost unanimous entrant into the first Baseball Hall of Fame class, despite his deplorable acts both on and off the field. Babe Ruth regularly cheated on his first wife until they separated. Countless high profile athletes, such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Boris Becker have admitted to extramarital affairs without approaching the scrutiny Tiger has faced in the last couple weeks. The only thing comparable is the hysteria of the O.J. Simpson trial. Once again, a black man who was given unrestricted authority to the white establishment did something bad to a blond woman. And again, they're gonna make this nigga pay. Not for what he did, but for betraying their trust.

Dave Chappelle once joked that we have no idea of the capacity of the President's fame because the President is so famous that one can become famous just by giving him oral sex. Nowadays, that's true of almost any celebrity. Thanks to reality television, even becoming a celebrity by one's own self isn't so hard. One needn't be burdened by having to have any particular talent or skill. Though Tiger may be a womanizer, all these women who are coming forth haven't slept with him; I suspect at least half are as sincere as the people who "just happened to be thinking about you" when they call the day after you won the Lottery. Even as the PGA prepares to lose money, Tiger is still a cash cow for others: There are more reality shows to be had for these women, a book deal or two, surely, about the

steamy text messages Tiger sent
the romantic weekend spent with Tiger
the many times Tiger told me I was his true soul mate.

We are so eager to make people our gods, then more eager to destroy them for not being the gods they never were. Why do we feel our lives are so incomplete unless we have some connection to a celebrity, no matter how esoteric the attachment? Even now, readers may still only be perusing this essay because they're eager to hear the back story on this article's title, failing to understand that it is just an obscure inside joke. (3:40 mark)

Between 2004-06, thanks to a small black newspaper, I had the opportunity to do photography for a professional Los Angeles basketball team. (Flip a coin.) I had access to the media room, the locker room, and seats right under the basket. The first few games, I was all starstruck, amazed at my good fortune and trying to keep pace with my peers from Getty Images and the L.A. Times. But eventually, I began to notice the machinery, and realized that the social chicanery behind the scenes was far more interesting than the sport on television. I recognized the same groupies coming to game after game, always seated in phenomenal seats. I then saw those groupies, after the game, in the "players' lounge" adjacent to the home locker room. (The one that I needed a media badge to get to.) I saw certain players' right hand men swoop up attractive women in courtside seats -- once the poor sap who'd paid for it had gone to the bathroom -- and slip them business cards, presumably to invite them to their client's "after party." Where were their wives, you ask? Nowhere to be found. And cry no tears for the road team: there were always plenty of willing women waiting in their hotel rooms once they arrived. Professional sports, historically quick in policing player dress codes (NBA) and touchdown celebrations (NFL) in the name of being "family friendly," quietly promote a climate unhelpful to an athlete's protection of his own marriage/family.

Sports fans are hypocritical. We want to stone Tiger for cheating on his blond, Swedish wife, yet athletes who resist the sports world's temptations are rarely admired. Former Lakers All-Star A.C. Green was often the butt of jokes for maintaining his virginity throughout his 16-year NBA career. Disrespecting his religious convictions, teammates often sent women to his hotel room to tempt him. Still, he married shortly after his career ended and managed to escape the STD, child support and domestic soap operas that have beset a lot of his ex-teammates. Another retired NBA star, Doug Christie, and his wife, Jackie, were similarly mocked for their aggressive stance (amongst other things, Jackie accompanied Doug to road games and didn't allow any female reporters to interview him.) But their marriage has been scandal free and Jackie doesn't appear to be a candidate to bust out his car window anytime soon.

We've become so reactionary. So now Tiger's not a role model because he gave in to a temptation of being the biggest athlete on the planet? Who said he was a role model in the first place? The machine pumped him up before he was a husband or a father, when he was just a cocky kid at Stanford with an ethnically ambiguous face and amazing drive. Who said he was a great husband? What does that have to do with selling golf clubs or razor blades or sports drinks? Is there any kid out there that idolized Tiger's swing that doesn't want to play golf all of a sudden? And why does this standard only apply to athletes? Is anyone not listening to the Beatles even though they were promiscuous drug users all while they made their masterpieces? (Not me. Bumpin' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" even as I type this.) And why does it only apply to celebrities? Do you know how good a husband your doctor is? Your plumber? Your 3rd grade speech therapist?

As a Christian who respects the institution of marriage, I am not condoning Tiger's actions. Still, I am also a realist, and feel in many ways that comparing his life to mine is like comparing a planet to a galaxy. The golf world is no more or less monogamous than any other predominantly male, multimillionaire institution. Tiger is a pioneer even in exposing this component of his sport -- that alone makes him easy to ostracize. I do not live in Tiger's home and do not know the arrangement between he and his wife. I'm not convinced that there wasn't one. If wives in one sport can turn a blind eye to groupies that pounce on their husband in the city they call home, I'm sure they can do the same for the groupies that are waiting in Augusta or Scotland or Pebble Beach. The media, as always, has proven to be omnipresent, yet unreliable.

There is a whole infrastructure that lets wealthy boys be boys until someone gets hurt. Tiger was unwise to get caught up in it, but he won't be the last.


Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

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tracey kelley
12.14.09 @ 10:29a

Jas, you know I love you, but you're not seriously comparing Tiger Woods' infidelity to the murky river bottom that is the O.J. murder trial? I mean, there's some real out-n-out wrongness attached to O.J. and the murder of his wife and her (boy)friend.

I've written about the tilt of the star machine before, and the cliche that there is a price to fame is no more evident than it is now. Character and celebrity are not unanimous, but there are some people that believe they should be.

jason gilmore
12.14.09 @ 10:50a

Hey Tracey,
In my eyes, no, they're not the same. I'm just saying that the intensity with which the media has turned on Tiger reminds me of what happened to O.J. The fact that no one has been murdered here is actually part of my point.

Without going back into O.J. again, I hope we can all agree that the case wouldn't have become nearly the circus that it became if he had been accused of murdering his first wife. I think the same idea is applicable here. I don't know that people are upset that he cheated on his wife. I think they're upset that he cheated on his white wife.

tracey kelley
12.14.09 @ 12:13p

Oh, see, I don't see it that way at all.

I think that his untouchable veneer has been shattered. People watched Tiger achieve great success and it seemed effortless, and they wanted to believe in him. And, because he tried so hard to craft an image and a brand that is now tarnished because his freak flag is flying for all to see.

Similiar to: Michael Jackson.


joe redden tigan
12.14.09 @ 12:34p

I've talked to a ton of white people over the last couple of weeks and I gotta tell you, the subject of who was black and who was white never entered the discussion. I didn't even sense it, telepathically. Elin Woods could be an off shade of mauve and it wouldn't matter. She could be fuchsia. Because he's TIGER WOODS. This guy has positioned himself as a standard of perfection in life/business/sport like we have never seen before. Like, cyborg. Now that he's blown a gasket, we get to break the robot apart and see what's inside, maybe crunch a few fuses then see if he can put himself back together again. Without any help. That's the fascination. Elin could be sunset orange. Tiger could be flowered wallpaper pattern. Cherry blossom against burgundy. Couldn't matter less.

And white establishment? Really? Thought we retired the term. Unless you consider
to be the current white establishement.

russ carr
12.14.09 @ 1:17p

Yeah, I'm with Tracey and Joe; race hasn't entered into this for me one bit -- though believe me, I've tried to put the whole thing beyond even my peripheral vision. It's the speed at which everything has erupted that astonishes me -- the nearly invulnerable, mythologically talented Tiger Woods, shattering all over the place. This was no Lindsay Lohan oopsie, shrugged off with rolled eyes and thirty seconds in a Conan monologue. Tiger passed celebrity and moved up to icon status; when he falls, it's like a WTC collapsing. There is tragedy (how could he?!) and there is fallout (the golf world just got gutted) and reconstruction becomes some vague notion for the future.

I understand sin. It's inescapable. But I still shake my head when someone who (by all worldly measures, at least) appears to have it all can't simply be satisfied by his incredible fortunes. It makes me grateful for my decidedly less-shiny life; I'm too busy trying to keep secure the blessings I do have to worry about what I think I'm entitled to.

jason gilmore
12.14.09 @ 2:17p

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this wouldn't be a colossal story if Tiger were married to a black woman. What I am saying is that we've seen other icons with "clean" images admit to infidelity (or have it admitted for them) on their black spouses and they didn't receive near the fallout or shock or media coverage. I'm talking Jordan, Bill Cosby, Shaq etc. People who are international phenoms just like Tiger. Now you can argue Tiger is bigger than all three of them, but a legendary icon is a legendary icon.

Smh @ folks acting like the "white establishment" is an outdated term. So all these corporations dropping Tiger like hot potatoes are run by non-white people? Ok.

Is this whole article becoming defined by two sentences?

mike julianelle
12.14.09 @ 3:45p

Interesting fact and/or This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse: Tiger Woods has now made the cover of the NY Post for sixteen consecutive days. Three more days, and he will tie September 11.


This is so absurd. WHO CARES? He did NOTHING to anyone but his wife and tons and tons of repugnant women. He's still the best golfer ever, only now he actually has a personality. A gross, shockingly stupid and adolescent personality. Regardless, this is the ultimate non-story. I feel far more victimized by the media coverage than I do by Tiger's totally personally inconsequential philandering.

As for the white/black thing, Bill Clinton may have been the first black president, but he was still a white man, and he almost lost the Presidency because he cheated on his wife. Disgusting. This has nothing to do with race and everything to do with schadenfreude, Puritanism, the American obsession with celebrity gossip, and the hypocrisy of the world at large.

(P.S. Before you get the wrong idea, I am in NO WAY saying that what Tiger has done is not as horrible as 9/11. Obviously it is. Bring on three more days of Post covers!)


tim lockwood
12.14.09 @ 11:52p

The problem I have with all the noise being made about Tiger is, it doesn't affect the world, and it doesn't even affect the world of golf. Tiger is still probably the finest golfer the world has seen since forever, and where he puts his body parts on his off hours is no business of anyone's. Inasmuch as celebrity gossip is completely unnecessary to the survival of the human race, this is really really REALLY unnecessary.

What I find amazing is that, for a country that prides itself on being free-spirited and open-minded, we Americans sure are a bunch of easily titillated prudes, if the coverage is to be believed. Do I approve of it? Not by a long shot, but I sure as hell am not anxiously awaiting the next opportunity to be offended by it all over again.

Though I don't recall them from my own lifetime, I miss the days when there were certain boundaries that the press respected with regard to celebrities.

joe redden tigan
12.15.09 @ 9:51a

Jason, those were two big sentences...

And yes, I am saying that among the corporations that have dropped Tiger (which doesn't even make up a fraction of the entire "establishment"), there is racial diversity in the leadership. The first company I googled to make this point was the first company to drop Tiger, Gatorade, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. The chairman and CEO of Pepsico is Indra K. Nooyi. An Indian. And a woman, no less. I stopped there.

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