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H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger discusses Vanity Fair article, the “true” Tiger Woods

A man stands at the final hole of a golf course, a green jacket resting snuggly over his shoulders. He is asked a question. Being a family man, he responds that his family is the most important thing to him.

But under the jacket lies the truth, the real image, the sex addict – the true Tiger Woods.

H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger
Photo by Mike Wolanin
H.G. ‘Buzz’ Bissinger never spoke with Woods before writing his piece in February’s Vanity Fair on the fall of the world’s greatest athlete. In fact, Bissinger never talked with Woods in his life. But, he knew the image that he saw and the deception that lay beneath it.

“I know what he’s like in a golf sense,” Bissinger said Wednesday night during an Investigating the Business of College Athletics workshop hosted by the Indiana University School of Journalism’s National Sports Journalism Center and the Associated Press Sports Editors.

“I didn’t go to bed with him. I didn’t sleep with him. The fact that he led this dual life doesn’t surprise me.”

As Bissinger wrote in Vanity Fair and spoke about in his talk Wednesday night at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Woods portrayed the image that the media wanted, that the PGA wanted, that America wanted.

“He had this image that was not threatening, of integrity, of decency,” Bissinger said. “He stood for something. I’m not quite sure what, but he seemed very non-controversial.”

Woods carried the label of the husband, the dad of two, and the greatest athlete in the world, and not in that particular order. But the tag that could not be ripped from the lining is what remains after a car crash and over three months of media frenzy.

Bissinger spoke about his Vanity Fair piece for the first time Wednesday at IUPUI. He said what bothers him about the scandal is not that Woods lied or that he slept with an undefined number of women, but that he lied about his family image.

H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger
Photo by Mike Wolanin
“He never talked about his wife,” Bissinger said. “He was very, very private. One of the things that has intrigued me about the Tiger story is here you have a guy who was so controlled in public and in private he apparently was as undisciplined as you could possibly be.

“He was this guy that liked to have sex, which is, I think not, such a bad thing, except that he was married and has two children. The lesson is you don’t really know who anybody is.”

Bissinger said that although he thinks Woods’ press conference could have helped, he was inadequately advised by the team of men that kept his true identity so hush hush.

“He’s not able to exude what I would call real emotion,” Bissinger said. “His voice maybe cracked once or twice. The one moment I thought was real was the hugging of his mother … I don’t think he changed anyone’s mind. Those who love him still love him; those who dislike him or were disappointed are still disappointed.”

Bissinger remains on the disappointed side, feeling Woods’ apology was too rehearsed to feel actually apologetic.

Woods’ is not the first athlete under scrutiny for a scandal, nor will he be the last, but Bissinger said he felt Woods should have taken notes from Mark McGwire.

“Mark McGwires’ apology was bizarre … but he cried and I thought the crying was real,” he said. “I felt the shame. I felt the embarrassment. I felt he was humiliated.”

The emotion that guides an athlete’s impulse and reactions appeals to Bissinger. Take his co-author for his latest book, Shooting Stars, LeBron James. Last season, James was scrutinized for walking off the court after losing in the finals of the Eastern Conference, but Bissinger loved every part of James’ silence.

“He didn’t shake hands because his first impulse was to be human and not like Tiger would have done and said ‘Oh God, the media’s here I’m going to have to shake hands,’” Bissinger said. “I thought it was a great human moment.”

As for Woods’ human moment, a chance for one may have passed in the press conference.

“He could say in a very calm way, ‘Guys, you can ask me this question for the rest of your lives, it’s personal. It’s personal. I’m here to play golf,” he said.

But, another shot surely remains at an 18th hole.

“In the end, the redemption he will find is he will win again,” Bissinger said. “And when he wins again people will say whether you liked him or you hated him he is one of the greatest athletes of all time.”
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