Tiger Teaches Repentance

Tiger Woods pauses while delivering a statement to friends and family in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, February 19, 2010. REUTERS/Lori Moffett/Pool
Today's big story is Tiger Wood's press conference in which he offered a 13 minute apology to all affected by his infidelities. If you haven't seen the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

While I realize that some may interpret his words with cynicism, seeing this mea culpa as motivated by money, I didn't get that feeling at all. I think he was sincere and, having since read a transcript of his remarks, I'd like to offer a few thoughts on his example of contrition and repentance.

First of all, I appreciate that Tiger didn't speak out too soon. Shortly after the Thanksgiving car accident in Florida and the subsequent revelations of his multiple affairs, Tiger apparently went into 45 days of inpatient psychotherapy. Only after that--and before another stint of inpatient treatment beginning Saturday--did Tiger choose to speak. (This explains the awkward timing of today's press conference during the Accenture golf tournament. Apparently, Accenture was the first of his sponsors to drop him.) What Tiger shows by waiting to speak is that a formal apology is much more effective when its words come from the painful work of self-examination, a process which takes time. Woods' apology had none of the blame or excuses we've come to associate with other public expressions of regret. True repentance works to get to the root of what caused us to act out in the first place; it then bravely names it and asks others for forgiveness based on this fresh self-awareness.

True repentance, as Woods illustrates, is not a matter of eloquence and emotion, but of changed actions. I appreciate this statement: "my real apology to [my wife] will not come in the form of words; it will come from my behavior over time." Saying we're sorry is the easy part; walking the road of repentance in transformed behavior and healthy habits, that's the hard part. We can only hope that Tiger continues to take steps in this direction.

By explicitly naming the problem and its nature, Tiger shows us the meaning of confession. "The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame." We're reminded that the Bible's definition of confession is "agreement": we agree with God's verdict on our behavior: our actions have damaged others and been inconsistent with God's ways. What we've done is wrong and we're to blame.

Notice too that Tiger acknowledged the many relational dimensions of his poor choices: he hurt his wife, his children, his mother, his business partners, his sponsors, his fellow golfers, those who serve on his foundations, the kids he seeks to help, and all young people and families who look up to him. Clearly, he's pondered at length the many people he's affected and he's sought their forgiveness. Well done, Tiger. In a sea of moral relativism and brazen independence, where so many people are tempted to say, "What I do with my personal life is none of your business," Tiger has fought the tide and owned up to the fact that our personal choices do in fact impact others. Confession and repentance are essentially relational activities.

Tiger also seems to be gaining fresh insight into his (reclaimed) spiritual life, particularly in his newfound willingness to seek a balance between the spiritual and professional. I wish him well in this regard. He shows us that our spiritual practices are not kids'-stuff, meant to be tossed aside when more adult matters of money, sex, and power beckon. No, the spiritual life, with its accountability, responsibility, and relational compassion, is meant to mature in us throughout our lives.

I think we also need to appreciate Tiger's stated openness to receiving help from others and his desire to help fellow strugglers as well. I heard in this the language of the recovery movement, which has its roots in biblical wisdom. Again, Tiger seems to be seeing that the rugged individualist, the moral Lone Ranger, is a dangerous myth, a monster even. Life and peace are found in the humble path of interdependence, honesty, and mutual accountability.

Tiger's given us a good example today of what it means to face our brokenness, to begin to plumb the depths of our depravity, and to struggle to find a way forward. I long for him to know the full healing that Jesus offers, where Tiger's sins may finally and fully be washed away. I pray he won't be crushed under the burden of trying to save himself. "I have a lot to atone for", he mentioned. Dear Tiger, none of us can atone for our sins. At the end of the day, someone else needs to do that. May you find the full transformation, the wonder of healing, and the restored relationships this Someone offers. You're off to a great start.


Anonymous said...

Carl, yours is a wonderful analysis of Tiger's apology. But, by extension, it is, more importantly, a beautiful Christian learning experience for us all. Thanks for that. I also choose to believe he's sincere and I liked the tone and, literally, the words he used. My only slight regret is that he didn't explain, up front, why it was extremely necessary for him to read his words, so that he could touch on all of the heartfelt confessions he needed to make. Thanks for your wonderful, Christ-based thoughts on this high profile event. As always, God has spoken powerfully through you.

Steve Hawkins

Carl Hofmann said...

Steve, thanks for these kind words. I appreciate, too, your only regret. I think Tiger's confession is more powerful read than spoken. Maybe he knew that; maybe it was too personal and vulnerable for him to depart from his prepared remarks. Whatever the case, I'm sticking with my impression that he was sincere, contra some of the sports page editorials I've been reading. Thanks for writing!