The Tiger Woods scandal is everywhere these days. If you haven't heard about it, then I can't believe you are reading my blog, but here it is in a nutshell: Woods, arguably the greatest golfer that has ever played, has maintained several illicit sexual relationships over the past few years, while maintain a squeaky-clean, family-man image with his model-gorgeous wife. There are more details to the story, but that is the gist of it.
My take on it is this: Tiger misses his father.
Sorry that that is so simplistic, but I believe that there is some truth to that. Tiger's father provided an anchor, a yard-stick to measure his life against, a support mechanism to balance all of the fame and adulation. When Tiger's father died, Tiger said, "My dad was my best friend and greatest role model, and I will miss him deeply."
Earl Woods died of cancer in 2006; Woods' affairs began in 2007. Without the anchor, the role model, the yardstick, even someone as talented as Tiger Woods let his life run off of the rails.
Tiger is far from the only star athlete to have similar problems. Michael Jordan was unable to control his gambling addiction in the wake of his father's shocking murder in 1993. He withdrew from basketball for a time, ultimately to return and be successful. But without a guiding hand, his life became increasingly difficult, and he divorced his wife in 2002 (followed by a brief reconciliation and then a final divorce in 2006). He allegedly had affairs during the aftermath of his father's death and his gambling addiction ran into the millions of dollars per year. In the minds of many, his image was forever altered by his bitter Hall of Fame acceptance speech. I believe that had his father been alive, Michael would not have become so bitter.
Mike Tyson never had a father, having been abandoned by his natural father when he was two years old. Tyson had repeated troubles as a child, finally being rescued from reform school by boxing legend Cus D'Amato. When Tyson's mother died, D'Amato became his legal guardian, and the only father figure Tyson would ever know. D'Amato got Tyson to channel his ferocious nature into the bouts in the ring, and thereby control it. When D'Amato died in 1985, Tyson was beginning his career as the youngest heavyweight champion of the world. By 1990, without D'Amato to guide him and mentor him, Tyson's professional discipline had disappeard, and he lost the heavyweight title to unheralded Buster Douglas. Two years later, his personal life would also disintegrate, as he battered his wife, and began a decline into laughing-stock status, in and out of jail and the tabloids.
There are other less well-known examples. Chuck Knoblauch, an all-star second baseman for the New York Yankees, idolized his father. His father coached Chuck in Little League and later in High School, and was a personal and professional mentor. In 1996, Chuck's father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The distraction proved too much for Knoblauch, and by 1999 he was a shell of the former All-star caliber player he had once been. He became incapable of throwing a baseball from 2nd base to 1st base--a purely mental roadblock that directly coincides with his father's struggles (according to baseball-reference.com, he had eight errors in a complete season in 1996, in 1999 he had 26, and by 2000 he projected to more than 40 when they stopped letting him play 2nd base).
In each of these cases, and countless others, a father has provided the anchor and yardstick to an extremely talented son. Without that anchor the son has slid into self-destruction. As a father I am humbled by the realization that my sons look to me for an anchor, and that my actions can continue to guide them even when I am not present for every moment of their lives.
My own father is still alive. At 88 years old he is extremely active (tennis 3-4 times per week, a new college course every semester, busily writing physics papers and reading up on history). While I am far from famous, I have had my share of difficulties. Still, for me he continues to provide a rudder to my life; even as everything around me can seem to be in chaos and turmoil, my father is a rock, a foundation to which I can always turn for guidance and direction.
I did not intend this to be a treatise on the importance of fathers; there are plenty of good examples of that. This is simply an observation: these famous, successful men owed a lot of their success to the influence of fathers or father figures. Their downfalls, to varying degrees, can be traced at least in part to the sudden or unexpected absence of those same father figures. Doesn't it follow that their recovery, therefore, would necessitate a reconnection with someone to play that mentoring role for them?
So to Tiger, I would say this: find that person who can provide that anchor on earth. At one time it probably could have been your wife, though that time may have passed. And Tiger? Try to remember the morals and values that made your father so proud of you in life. There really is no replacement for your Dad.