Lindsay Crouse—the writer, not the actress, as I originally assumed in the original version of this post— has an op-ed in the New York Times called “Why Don’t Women Get Comebacks Like Tiger Woods?” (Thanks to Althouse for pointing me to it: I tend to avoid the Sunday Times Review section since it became a repetitious Trump-bashing fest week after week.)
Here’s Crouse’s argument, condensed, in her own words:
Tiger Woods won the Masters after his long drought, it was more than just one of the most incredible comebacks in history. It showed America’s eagerness to embrace a man who persevered through years of setbacks, especially self-inflicted ones, regardless of whatever selective amnesia that requires….
Why aren’t there more redemption stories like this among women? It’s not just because women aren’t given second chances. It’s because they are rarely able to reach those heights in the first place….
In men, excessive qualities can be forgiven, even admired — when it works out at least. His trajectory is a reminder of who pays forever for their mistakes and whose transgressions can be set aside….
Part of the problem is that so few women even reach the athletic heights of Woods, let alone stay there. Yes, we have the extraordinary Serena Williams. But can you name another female athlete on the financial and cultural level as Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Tom Brady and their peers?
Of the few iconic women, sponsors and fans, to a certain degree, want them to be perfect — or at least quiet. Women’s moral behavior deeply influences our perception of their professional achievements.
…No women have the leeway to behave like Woods and get away with it; a black woman certainly does not. Just imagine the reaction if Serena Williams was caught cheating on her husband, Alexis Ohanian, with numerous men.
…Women literally cannot afford to make the messy mistakes we see in the long arc of a lot of a storied male athletes’ careers, and they rarely get the payoffs….
Society rarely allows women to nurture those bold qualities that drive standout success. Instead, to get ahead, women either learn to stifle those instincts, or get punished for them. This muffles the traits that might lead to failure and inevitably also the qualities that lead to success…
Shouldn’t everyone be able to recover from a fall from grace? Or at the very least, shouldn’t we allow both men and women to get high enough to fall?
Convinced? I sure hope not. This is gender victim-mongering at its most silly and obnoxious. I’m probably going to be nicer as I debunk this junk than I would have if I didn’t know and like Lindsay, but it’s a bad thesis, badly argued. She’s smarter than this, or at least was. Most people get smarter…and more ethical…over time.
To state what should be obvious, almost nobody gets a comeback like Tiger Woods, in sports or any other field, regardless of gender. Woods didn’t just have a sex scandal that exposed his squeaky clean image as a sham, he also stopped winning for a full decade. It’s as if Pete Rose somehow returned to win a batting title ten years after being banned from baseball. In most sports—this is impossible; golf is one of the very few that allows high level competition past 40.
Is Crouse narrowing her standards for comebacks to “falls from grace” that include only sexual misconduct? I assume not, and thus I know that she omitted another notable comeback from disgrace that was accomplished by a woman whose transgression was a lot worse than Tiger Woods’. That would be Jane Fonda, who gave aid, comfort and ideological support to an enemy of the United States, and was regarded as a literal traitor by a large enough segment of the population to make her unpopular even though, unlike Woods, her quality of work never faltered. About a decade after cheering on the people who were killing our soldiers, she reinvented herself as an apolitical fitness guru, and became such a success in an emerging field that people stopped thinking of her as “Hanoi Jane.” Now she’s a popular celebrity again. Crouse’s assertion notwithstanding, comebacks are a function of circumstance, talent and opportunity, not gender.
It is true that going back in time, far fewer women were in positions of power, position and celebrity to experience a Woods-like fall, so there were proportionately fewer opportunities for a Woods-style comeback, which is rare anyway. Nevertheless, the comeback is all up to the individual, whether they are willing to persevere, whether they can scale the same heights they fell from, and whether the “fall from grace” happened far enough in the past that the scandal is largely forgotten.
Crouse’s comparisons are all misbegotten. She cites the case of Olympic ice skating champion Oksana Baiul, whose career and reputation collapsed under the weight of alcoholism. She eventually was treated and has been involved in various skating-related endeavors, but ice skating isn’t like golf. Champions retire to ice shows or coaching. “Spoiler: She didn’t return to competitive skating,” writes Lindsay. Yes, but that’s because almost nobody returns to competitive skating after a hiatus, and because alcoholism and elite sporting performance are not compatible–even in golf.
Crouse asks us to “imagine the reaction if Serena Williams was caught cheating on her husband, Alexis Ohanian, with numerous men.” “No women have the leeway to behave like Woods and get away with it; a black woman certainly does not,” she states. Oh, ack, cough, blech, gag me with a spoon. If Williams kept winning matches and championships, her domestic escapades would be a footnote, and nothing more. Movie stars like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and too many singers to list, have seen their star status survive some ugly sexual conduct, but as long as their skills have stayed intact, so has their celebrity.
Of course women can recover from falls from grace like that of Tiger Woods. It’s easy: all they need is 1) to be the very best in their profession 2) be a revered role model 3) simultaneously indulge in behavior that destroys the role model image while 4) losing the ability to excel at their previous established level and 5) return to that level a decade later after the earlier disgrace has faded from memory.