we — the media and the reader — are like moths to a flame.

2009-12-05 00:00

MANY sportsmen around the planet will be reading the increasingly lurid stories engulfing Tiger Woods and thinking quietly to themselves “there but for the grace of God …”

For those who have been too focussed on the 2010 World Cup final draw and the sodden ODI series between SA and England, the No.1 golfer in the world, for as long as anybody can remember, has become embroiled in a saga of “sex messages”, adultery and a car crash. Once admired as whiter than white and purer than pure, Tiger has become tabloid fodder.

What happened?

A consensus seems to have emerged that, late at night on Thursday, November 26, Woods was at home in Florida sending a text message from his cellphone. His wife, Elin, a Swede who first met the icon while working as an au pair for another golfer in 2001, and who subsequently became engaged at the Shamwari game reserve in the Eastern Cape in November 2003, asked whom he was texting.

A lively exchange followed, in which the blonde model appears to have grabbed the phone and read the messages her husband had been sending to a certain Rachel Uchitel, a New York hostess whose partner was killed in the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking a fine scriptwriter was at work, yet fact is often stranger than fiction.

The marital discussion escalated to a point where, at half-past two in the morning, Woods headed for his SUV and attempted to escape the rage of a woman scorned. She seems to have pursued him with a couple of golf clubs … and, abracadabra, car windows are broken, Woods drives his car into a water hydrant and a tree near his house, and is soon found by medics lying semi-conscious on the neatly clipped grass verge.

Hot news flashed around the globe in a nano-second, and Woods’s domestic incident was immediately splashed in headlines wherever anybody can read. The Internet jokes followed within minutes – ‘Tiger must be wishing he had chosen a driver’ and ‘what’s the difference between a golf ball and a car … Tiger can drive a golf ball further than 400 yards’ are currently rated as the most popular among those fit to print.

Such sagas tend to unfold in stages.

Stage one is outright denial. At first, Woods and Uchitel hired sharp-suited lawyers and adamantly denied any kind of relationship. The golfer accepted blame for the accident, praised his wife, asked for privacy and twice refused to speak with policemen wanting to ask questions. The Florida Highway Patrol issued him with a R1 400 ticket for careless driving and that seemed to be that.

That might indeed have been that, were it not for the fact that reporters grown weary of praising the golfer for his triumphs, and feeding the ravenous appetite of a public grown weary of reading praise, sensed blood.

Stage two is the opening of the wound.

The hounds ran loose … the National Enquirer published details of the alleged relationship with Uchitel and, two days later, Us Weekly ran a story provided by Jaimee Grubbs, a curvy cocktail waitress from San Diego, who said she had pursued a two-year affair with Woods and promptly produced a catalogue of voice and text messages purportedly left by the golfer. Life & Style magazine printed stories of meetings with a third woman, as the trickling stream became a flood, and then a mud slide.

Stage three is the confession.

With a PR and legal team now working around the clock, Woods announced on his website: “I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all my heart. I have not been true to my values.” He proceeded to lament the devastating impact of tabloid scrutiny and to plead for privacy before promising he will “strive to be a better person”.

Why do we care? Why are we interested in such matters? Why is it not enough for us to enjoy his extraordinary ability?

In these instances, the media is always blamed for invading privacy, but we are all prurient by nature, we are all at fault – me for writing this column, and you for reading it.

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