When I heard that President Obama was playing golf with Tiger Woods two weekends ago, I wondered if the event might be interpreted as a kind of presidential pardon. I mean, is a round of golf just a round of golf when the players are the Leader of the Free World and the Best Golfer in the World-turned Sex Addict and Home Wrecker?
We can’t go to the videotape because the press was barred from covering the golf day, so let’s go to the subtext. Everything the president does carries the weight of his office. Whatever he wears, whatever he eats or drinks, wherever he vacations, whatever he reads, whomever he hangs out with and however he spends his time — all bask in the reflected light of the presidency. The president and his people know this, and they use his office and his power quite intentionally, sometimes subtlely and sometimes in a more obvious way.
So, I do believe that the subtext to the Obama-Woods golf match reads like this: It’s time to set aside the scandal and appreciate Tiger Woods for his extraordinary athletic accomplishments. Perhaps forgive him his trespasses and allow him back into the game — the big game, that is, of public life and social acceptance. When the president asks you out for a round, it confers a certain legitimacy.
It’s not as if Obama called Lance Armstrong and asked him to go bike-riding. Or is it? At one point, Tiger Woods was publicly disgraced by his own behavior, his reckless adultery and the double life he was trying to live. I can’t imagine a president inviting him to play golf in the months following the revelations of his sexual misconduct. But time has passed. Shouldn’t we separate the athletic achievements from the cheesy philandering?
Similarly, I can’t imagine any American president inviting Armstrong back into the fold just yet. Or possibly ever. His story is shocking. We learned just months ago that he cheated and doped his way to his triumphs in the Tour de France. He took drugs that enhanced his performance in training and in the races that won him the gold and the glory. Recently he confessed, leaving the public feeling betrayed and competitors feeling cheated.