Tiger's Privacy Mulligan

Tiger's Privacy Mulligan

By Ruben Navarrette - December 2, 2009

SAN DIEGO -- Some truths are counterintuitive. In business, you have to spend money to make money. In politics, the only way to maintain acquired capital is to spend it. And with celebrity, those who go to extraordinary lengths to protect their privacy wind up with much less of it.

Tiger Woods should think about this. Regarded as perhaps the greatest golfer in the world, and the only billion-dollar athlete on the planet for his earnings and endorsements, Woods knows a lot about competing, focusing and becoming the best in your field. But the 33-year-old still has much to learn about one of the things that he seems to crave most in life: privacy.

As if to drive home how important the concept is to him, "Privacy" is how he christened his $20 million yacht. So seriously does Woods take his private life that, according to media reports, when the boat maker allegedly violated a confidentiality agreement by distributing photos to yachting magazines, Woods sued for damages. And speaking of that vessel, although the price tag eventually leaked out, Woods had long refused to reveal how much he'd paid for it. When "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley asked Woods that question during an interview, the golfer would only smile and say: "a lot."

I thought that was classy. But lately, the way in which Woods has gone about protecting his privacy is anything but. The more Woods tries to elude the Florida Highway Patrol concerning that early-morning car accident outside his home, the less privacy he's going to have -- and the less peace, for that matter.

Woods might be right on principle. But as a practical matter, his handling of this episode has been a disaster. The married father of two may be completely justified in treating the incident like a private matter that is no one else's business. And it might be smart to avoid giving the police statements that, even if they aren't incriminating, could easily wind up leaked to the media or celebrity gossip sites. If this was indeed nothing more than a traffic accident and no crime was committed, you can see why Woods is reluctant to speak with authorities.

Yet, Woods' evasiveness concerning the crash and what might have precipitated it only serves to raise more questions and feed the media frenzy. Scores of reporters are camped outside his home, and they're going to stay there until they start getting some answers.

And tightly worded statements issued on Woods' Web site aren't going to satisfy anyone. That was one of the sillier aspects of this story. Did Woods really think that communicating directly with his fans would suffice in this situation, that it could act as a substitute for sworn statements and on-the-record comments?

Perhaps it's just as well that Woods decided to skip his own golf tournament this week in Southern California. He's obviously not ready to face the public on this issue.

Woods is playing a dangerous game, and not doing it very skillfully. That is, if he cares what people think of him. Maybe he doesn't. But being rich and famous doesn't mean you get to skip the rules that apply to everyone else. While Florida law doesn't require that authorities receive cooperation from someone involved in a solo vehicular accident in which alcohol wasn't a factor and where no one else was hurt, society expects it.

If this was really just a simple accident, as Woods would like us to believe, then folks have to wonder what he's hiding or whom he is trying to protect by refusing to talk. They also have the right to resent him for taking liberties and acting in a way that, in some countries, is reserved for royalty. And you know the thing about royals. They hardly have any privacy at all.

Woods should come forward to tell his side of the story. And then he should do what we commoners would have to do: live with the fallout. Otherwise, although he has every right to keep quiet, one of the world's greatest athletes will never reclaim his precious right to privacy.

Copyright 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

Ruben Navarrette

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