I was never much of a golf fan growing up, but whenever the Masters rolled around, I always knew to keep an eye out for Tiger Woods. Even though Tiger had turned pro after only two years at Stanford, that was enough of a connection to the best golfer in the world to ensure my undying bandwagon fandom.
In 2009, Tiger had just embarked on his career as the worst honorary captain in Stanford football history, triumphantly claiming “the second half is ours” over the PA system during halftime of the 2009 Big Game before a second-half collapse cost the Cardinal the Axe. (His captainship didn’t do much good at the 2012 Fiesta Bowl either). But in the month after that little slip-up, Tiger’s more serious transgressions came to the sporting world’s attention when he admitted to extramarital affairs with several women.
Suddenly, it was really hard to root for that guy that I didn’t have all that much reason to like in the first place. My Tiger fandom wasn’t die-hard—It was by default—and besides, the best player in the history of golf was starting to suck at it.
But being an elite athlete, Tiger’s resilience kicked in. Over three years he has battled back to his earlier dominance, and he has once again ascended to No. 1 in the world just in time for the Masters, which began today.
Which leaves me to wonder: Should I root for Tiger this week?
In a way, Tiger is the opposite of Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor and Livestrong founder whose seven Tour de France titles were cast into doubt by his recent admissions of doping. Lance did great things in real life but cheated on the racetrack; Tiger did great things on the golf course but, well, cheated in real life.
That makes it a whole lot harder to root against Woods, because his personal issues don’t really change what he has accomplished as a golfer. Tiger has won three career grand slams, been named PGA Player of the Year 10 times and is knocking on the door of Sam Snead’s PGA record of 82 tournament wins with 77 of his own.
And Tiger is by no means the only athlete with off-the-field issues. Before he came to the San Jose Sharks in 2009, Dany Heatley once pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide after a 2003 speeding accident that resulted in the death of a teammate. Just last season, Giants slugger and eventual World Series MVP, Pablo Sandoval, was investigated (but not charged) for an alleged sexual assault.
It’s pretty hard to find an athlete nowadays without some sort of personal controversy that has gone public. If it’s not Denis Rodman flirting with the Axis of Evil, it’s Oscar Pistorius being charged with the murder of his supermodel girlfriend.
The only two people you can have unequivocal faith in are Andrew Luck and the Pope—and I’m not so sure about one of those.
So Tiger, you’re getting a bit of a free pass in my book. It’s not because I think what you did was okay, but it’s because there are so many other athletes out there with muddy personal lives that it’s really hard to find many of them I can absolutely trust as people. It’s not for me to forgive your wrongdoings, since they never affected me, but I guess you could say I’ve been inundated with so many other sports scandals that I’ve begun to forget yours.
I’ve forgotten the cheating, the ugly breakup with your caddy, the on-course temper. So go out and win at Augusta this weekend, maybe with some of the pizzaz that earned you your fifth and final green jacket in 2005. I really want to see you win five more majors and break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.
And do it while I’m still on your side, please—because if you screw up next time David Shaw asks you to serve as honorary captain, I just might not want you back.
Joseph Beyda is clearly a very forgiving soul, so if you have wrongdoings that need to be pardoned seek him out instead of the Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DailyJBeyda.