The Sex-Tape Generation has now seeped into sports in a way that is unprecedented, riveting and more than a little bit gross.
Gross in terms of disgust. And gross in terms of profit generated when discussed.
Sports coverage changed forever Wednesday, a young woman betraying a betraying Tiger Woods by keeping and sharing a voice message with US Weekly that is the technological equivalent of that dress Monica Lewinsky kept because it had Bill Clinton's presidential stamp of approval. Pioneer Kim Kardashian built a family sitcom empire upon naked greed, and more and more people are profiting off this new-media world where the famous get screwed and the screwed get famous.
The rules changed on Tiger Woods in mid-swing, and it had to be every bit as jarring to him as if you suddenly placed a football on that tee. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan could behave like rock stars in private once. That's the world Woods entered 13 years ago, where the intrusions on privacy were merely autograph requests at dinner. But what has happened to politicians and celebrities since has now spilled with force into the playpen for the first time, as The National Enquirer and TMZ suddenly realize how much money there is to be made by disgracing athletes, and the cattle media are forced by a public's insatiable appetite to moo toward the Tiger trough.
ESPN doesn't want to follow this story, but it must. The choice is to either ignore it and be accused of protecting a golden boy or ignore it and lose all the eyeballs (and money) that immediately will go find it somewhere else. And that isn't any kind of choice at all if your corporation runs on dollars, not morality. What happens in Tiger's bedroom obviously isn't any of our business. But it is, rather literally, TMZ's business.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
And, given the gluttonous growth of gossip, the result is that too many of us somehow feel entitled to know where he was going at 2:30 a.m. on the night his image crashed, even though it is as absurd an entitlement as if Tiger were to walk into your bedroom and ask why you enjoy clucking like a chicken during sex. It is breathtaking, really, that so many people would trample his right to privacy and even his right to remain silent because they simply want and need to know more about a guy who hits a golf ball for a living.
``Privacy'' is the name of Tiger's 200-foot yacht, which just goes to prove yet again that you can't make up in fiction the funny things that actually happen in sports. His Wednesday statement on Tigerwoods.com about this being an invasion on his privacy was vastly more interesting than his admission to ``transgressions'' -- it is just about the first stand he has ever taken, on anything -- but pleas for compassion and reason are usually drowned out by the noise that surrounds ``Gotcha!''
The media and masses love hypocrisy -- cops behaving badly, priests committing sins against God, politicians contradicting their platforms, humans being human -- so too many of us will rationalize away our judgmental behavior now by calling him a fraud, cheater, liar and hypocrite and filing it under a public's right to know, as if a public's right to know about a guy who hits a golf ball somehow trumps an individual's right to privacy in America.
But here's where that falls apart: Woods never sold you family values; what he did was start a family. And then he took all his opinions and went and hid on his appropriately-named yacht. He didn't build that image for himself. We did. His world has never been a whole lot larger than that golf ball. He might have lied to his wife, but he certainly never lied to you. If you bought him as packaged perfection, the only one lying to you was you. His commercials? That's him selling us purity? No, it isn't. That's him selling us razors.
The media used to exist at least in part to expose the wrong/illegal. But now we're more comfortable than ever uncovering the wrong/immoral. And, as of Wednesday, if it's profitable, we will do it even with athletes, if golfers can even be called that. It might be hard to remember because of how famous Woods is, but this isn't exactly closeted gay politicians voting against gay rights. It is a man trying unsuccessfully to ignore his body's wiring and all natural impulses and temptation while comedian Chris Rock reminds us that any man is only as monogamous as his options.
US Weekly revealed Wednesday that Tiger and his wife Elin were "us,'' weakly. And this is somehow news now, even though infidelity is as common in sports as points. It probably bears noting amid all the subsequent stir this caused that, if you wanted to hear the audio of Tiger's voice mail to his mistress on the magazine's Web site, you first had to sit through a commercial.
Dire straits for Tiger, but for the media? Money for nothing, and the chicks are free.
Le Batard is a columnist for the Miami Herald.