Exceptional people, be they superstar athletes, politicians, celebrities or CEOs, are driven to be the very best at what they do.
To that end, Tiger Woods is no exception.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when that zeal carries over to the rest of his life, several psychologists and therapists said.
“How do you become Tiger Woods? It’s not just talent,” said Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington. “It’s very coherent with who he is that, in the rest of his life, he can tell himself, ’I have a bigger drive than other people do, in every category. I can deliver bigger than other people can, in every category. And I can keep everybody happy.”’
Add in that many of these high achievers have been celebrated for many years — all the way back to childhood, in some cases — and it can be a combustible combination.
“That’s what leads them to cross the line, whereas the rest of us common people would be more wary, more mindful, more thoughtful of dangers that might happen,” said psychologist Stan Teitelbaum, author of “Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols.”
“There’s a sense of invincibility that goes with that picture that makes them think they can do whatever they want.”
By now, the salacious details of Woods’ “transgressions” are well known. The public has gotten over its shock at the shattering of his pristine image, with new revelations of alleged indiscretions almost becoming background noise.
There still is that one, persistent question: With a beautiful wife, two small children, more money than some royals and the adoration of millions, what was he thinking?
“They just want to know why, and he hasn’t told us that. And he might not know why,” said Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of radio’s “Love Line” and VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab” and author of “The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America.”
With Woods, it could be a combination of things.
He is famous for his intensity and focus. This is, after all, a man who won a U.S. Open on a broken leg and shredded knee. In a playoff, no less.
But as highly driven people achieve, their success can breed an arrogance and sense of entitlement, said Herbert Samuels, a professor of human sexuality at the City University of New York and president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.
“Bill Clinton probably said it best. His answer was, ’Because I could,”’ Samuels said, referring to the former president’s explanation for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. “I think there are some men in positions of power who … have a sense of entitlement that the rules of the game don’t necessarily apply to them.”
Consider the star-studded names who’ve faced sex scandals: talk show host David Letterman, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Nevada Sen. John Ensign and former presidential candidate John Edwards, to name a few.
“People say, ’Do you think celebrities and governors and CEOs are different?’ And I go, duh!” Schwartz said. “Who has the drive, the thick skin, the energy, the desire at the level these guys, and some women, have to create the lives they had?”
Sports’ special place in society can elevate that. Sports are the source of some of our biggest dreams and fondest memories and, in an increasingly fragmented world, is the shared language that binds us together.
“In some ways, the very same quality that allows you to reach Herculean heights can also work to destroy you,” said Teitelbaum, who has coined the term “toxic athlete profile” to describe the mix of arrogance, grandiosity and entitlement that some athletes possess.
“It can be used in the most constructive of ways, but it can also be destructive.”
Even their own success can work against them.
“I think they get into the mode that, ’Everything works out OK for them, so this will work out OK for them, too.’ I think they do have some guilt about it, but they just go ahead,” said Emily Brown, a marriage and family therapist in Arlington, Va., who said she sent her book “Affairs: A Guide to Working Through the Repercussions of Infidelity” to Woods’ agent.
For whatever Woods’ failings are, the public isn’t blameless, Teitelbaum said.
“We used to enjoy a parade,” Teitelbaum said, “and now we’re very invested in enjoying the trainwreck.”