What Tiger Means for Marriage

April 7, 2010 | NeW Staff

Many gossips and even more critics have spent the last 3 months calculating the future of Tiger Woods both at home and on the green. Watching in anticipation his recent press conference, I figured something would slip. But, it, or rather he, was squeaky clean. No tearful tell-all and no diversion from this weekend’s playing.

So why are we still talking about it? Well for one, it matters. It matters not because of what it does for the game of golf, but rather, the institution of marriage.

Robert Wright at NYT agrees. And despite the hundreds of comments he received over his column last week, he responded yesterday with even louder wallop. I share Wright’s list not to keep talking about Woods’ dirt, but to start talking about Woods in the right context.

So here, according to Wright, is why Woods’ series of indiscretions matter:

1)    Monogamous marriage matters. As a 21-year veteran of the institution, I can attest to its imperfections. But compared with the alternatives, it looks pretty good as a means of rearing the next generation.

Monogamous marriage matters especially in parts of society where it is weakest. In many low-income neighborhoods, a large majority of children are reared in one-parent households. That increases the chances that they’ll remain low-income. Contributing to the weakness of monogamous marriage in many of these neighborhoods is an ethos of treating women as sex objects.

Role models matter. It seems to be a law of nature that young people absorb their values largely by emulating people they admire. And the emulation isn’t easily divisible; don’t waste your breath trying to tell a 10-year-old to confine his reverence for Tiger Woods to the realm of golf — to admire Tiger’s swing but not his swinging. To a 10-year-old, Woods is either an all-purpose paragon or no paragon at all.

Role models matter for adults, kind of. Even adults take their moral cues from celebrities, if only because celebrities are the most conspicuous examples of transgression.

Moral sanction matters. Though monogamous marriage may be, on average, the best way to rear children, a lifetime of monogamous fidelity isn’t natural in our species. And extramarital affairs have a way of leading, one way or another, to the dissolution of marriages — not unfailingly, by any means, but with nontrivial frequency. And even when an affair doesn’t end a marriage, it can permanently change the marriage — and child-rearing environment — for the worse.

Wright concludes:

“I’m saying is that the particular context in which they here present themselves — the problem of monogamous marriage, the problem of how you sustain an important but unnatural social institution — is a serious matter. As is, therefore, the sexual behavior of Tiger Woods — which indeed was none of my business until it moved from the private to the public realm and began to influence marriages other than his own.”

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