Tiger Woods and the Shortening of the American Scandal


Self-imposed exile ain't what it used to be.

Tiger Woods, as you've surely heard by now from about 14 media outlets (including this one), is returning to golf, a game he only stepped away from three months ago in what was supposed to be a display of how deeply committed he was to reforming his ways and repairing the damage he'd done by cheating on his wife.

That might seem a bit soon -- had we not just witnessed the spectacle of Eliot Spitzer's taking a job as a columnist nine months after resigning his governorship of New York in a prostitution scandal, or of Don Imus resuming his morning show just eight months after getting chased off the air for describing black female basketball players in terms that could only be construed as racist and sexist. By that standard, Woods's comeback is perhaps a touch ahead of schedule, but by no means radically premature.

Of course, neither Spitzer's nor Imus's exile was self-imposed, strictly speaking -- but then, neither was Woods's, really. He was simply following the script that every disgraced celebrity knows to read from now: exposure, confession, penitence, rehabilitation, redemption. It's a script whose familiarity and predictability puts edgy fans and sponsors at ease. Witness how little controversy Michael Vick's return to football actually elicted. Try as they might, Vick's critics could never really mount an argument that he shouldn't be allowed to play again because he'd been through the process. Fair's fair, right?

And for all the pleas by the celebrities in question that the media "leave my family alone so we can heal in private," as the cliché goes, it seems likely that the wall-to-wall, deep-pile coverage such scandals now routinely elicit may, in fact, work in the disgraced persons' favor. The more thorough the up-front shaming, the brisker the return to public life, head held high. In economics terms, it enables them to experience a V-shaped recession and recovery, rather than a milder but longer U-shaped one.