Forgive the Tiger Talk

I wrote this last week for Murderati:

Unless you’ve been in a stuffing-induced food coma since Thanksgiving, you’ve probably heard that Tiger Woods was in the news lately for more than just his game. Given my obsessions with golf, celebrities, and secrets, I can’t resist sharing a few random thoughts I had on the matter.

When the story (insert virtual air quotes for those of you disgusted by the news coverage) first broke, I tried to convince myself I had high-minded reasons for following it. At first, I feared for Tiger’s well-being after the initial reports of serious injuries. Then as a former domestic violence prosecutor, I wondered whether Florida law enforcement was seriously considering investigating Tiger’s wife as some reports suggested.

But there’s also the voyeurism. We all know (I hope) that we don’t really know celebrities, only the public images that publicists and managers have carefully crafted for us. But despite that cognitive understanding, consistent and prolonged exposure to those public faces sometimes creates sticky impressions of familiarity. After more than two decades of nightly Letterman monologues, I confess that David Letterman seemed like a known quantity. And after countless golf tournaments and Nike ads, so did Tiger.

Now I know.

But I’ve been thinking less about Tiger than about his women.

Rachel Uchitel, the woman first named by the National Enquirer, has seen more than an average person’s media coverage, as photographs online track her journey from grieving 9-11 widow to healing new bride to red-velvet-rope vixen.

Who is the woman behind all of these faces?

And then there’s Tiger’s wife, Elin Nordegren, who went from swimsuit model to au pair to marriage and motherhood.

I’ve seen countless images of her biting her nails at the 18th green, smiling at her husband, and holding the babies, but I’ve never heard her voice. Who would have suspected that quiet, smiling, waif of a woman had it in her to (allegedly) take a pitching wedge to the windows of a Cadillac Escalade?

My guess is she’ll stand by her man, at least in the short-term, but we’ll all be wondering whether it’s out of love or savviness. With Tiger struggling to hold onto his commercial endorsements, reporters claim Elin’s out to revise her pre-nup. Ten years of marriage no longer required. 55 million dollars instead of 20. Perhaps clauses that penalize further “transgressions”?* Jewelry, candy, and flowers just aren’t going to cut it.

We love to fret about the public fascination with celebrity scandals, but I have to confess that I get it. When I was a prosecutor, my daily work let me peer behind the facade to reveal the secrets people carry. Celebrity scandals satisfy that same itch – the realization (and validation) that everyone makes mistakes, no one is what he seems, and we all have multiple personas. That perfect son, husband, and father might be an insatiable dog on his trips to Vegas. That scantily clad hostess at the nightclub might have lost someone she loved to tragedy. And that quiet wife in the background might just be a hundred solid pounds of fortitude.

Thanks for tolerating my Tiger talk. Is anyone else willing to out themselves as a celebrity watcher? What seemingly superficial stories have kept you riveted and why?

*I found no comfort in the company I was keeping by following this story when I learned the following (pathetic) tidbit: After Tiger’s public admission of “transgressions,” online searches for the definition of that word topped Google’s search list.