It is an odd conicidence that Tiger Woods offered a public confession of serial adultery three days before the anniversary of Brother Jimmy Swaggart’s angished semi-admission of consorting with hookers in a New Orleans red-light distrrict.
The televangelist’s tear-stained Shakespearean-like soliloquy on February 21st, 1988, remains etched in the minds of the distraught thousands witnessing the carefully choreographed display of contrition in his Baton Rouge tabernacle, as well as millions of television viewers who saw the performance in news reports and on the preacher’s TV shows.
The Tiger Woods confession of sexual misconduct was also carefully staged, though not nearly as dramatic as Jimmy Swaggart’s sobbing jag. At times, Woods seemed on the brink of being overcome with emotion. But he avoided tearful outbursts. That’s not surprising considering the large number of 10 foot putts he has holed at critical moments in his golf career. Too bad, he was unable to show the same self-control in the presence of an array of groupies and porno stars. But sex can be an addiction, the same as booze, cocaine, pills and other compulsions.
There is an old AA adage that relying on willpower to control alcoholism is about as effective as using willpower to stop diarrhea. Perhaps, that was the case in Woods inability to resist temptation. Cynics laugh when adulterers blame their transgressions on sex addiction. In fact, the American Pyschiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not classify sexual compulsions as an addiction.
But that may soon change. Twelve-Step programs have been effective in helping serial philanderers. Indeed, followingTiger Woods public confession and plea for forgiveness last week, he returned to a Hattisburg, Mississippi sex rehab program that advocates a 12-Step program of recovery
Jimmy Swaggart rejected such an approach. On the day of his confession twenty-tdwo years ago, I had a curious conversation with the ministry’s chief lawyer about the preacher’s obsession. I had received a puzzling telephone call from the attorney asking my reaction to the mea culpa Super Bowl. I figured I must be a one-man focus group since Swaggart had regularly attacked me over the years as the result of investigative documentaries that raised questions about ministry finances and his spiritual manipulation of followers. If I was convinced of his penitence, the performance was a success. I had been primed to show favor.
Minutes before confessing his sins to God, family and followers, Swaggart addressed me directly saying, “I love you, John. And in spite of our differences, I think you are one of the finest investigative reporters in the world. And I mean that.”
Given the names he called me in the past, it is a vast understatement to say that I was amazed at this sudden change of heart. But in response to the lawyer’s inquiry, I tried to show a degree of compassion by expressing hope that the preacher would seek help.
“What kind of help are you talking about,” the attorney asked.
Suggesting that Jimmy attend Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings did not seem appropriate, so I opted to suggest, “Psychiatric counseling.”
“We don’t believe in that stuff,” the lawyer—the son of a Pentacostal preacher—snapped. Unfortunately, whatever “stuff” they believed in didn’t work in the short-term. I realize that Jimmy expected God to handle the problem. But He helps those who help themselves.
Several months later, Swaggart was caught with another prostitute. Even so, I believe he was sincere in expressing his remorse on the day his name became synonymous with hypocrisy. I know the drill. Before I stopped drinking in 1971, I was always sincere in my making promises after disastrous drinking episodes.
As I disclose in Odyssey of a Derelict Gunslinger, information I uncovered in my investigations of Jimmy Swaggart provided me a tiny peek into his pysche. I felt a kinship with him because of the similarity between my alcoholism and his sex addiction. The bond falls into the category of “it takes one to know one.”
The only thing I have in common with Tiger Woods is a hole-in-one I recorded in 2001. Since that highlight, my golf game has pretty much gone downhill. But I haven’t given up golf. Nor have I given up on Tiger, despite the consensus that he is attempting to repair the role model image that earned him tens of millions in endorsements.
No doubt, there is monetary motive in subjecting himself to the kind of humiliation that goes with public self-flagellation. By same token, self-preservation is the key to recovery. Addicts only recover if they are willing to do it for themselves. Not for endorsements, public images, wives, children, nor anything else other than self.
Over the years, Jimmy Swaggart has faced the same kind of cynicism that confronts Tiger Woods today. The evangelist was only trying to salvage his $150-million a year television ministry said the critics. Actually, he started out strong in rebuilding the organization. But a second publicized peccadillo doomed his comeback. Although he still has a syndicated television show and preaches to a congregation in his sometimes near empty temple, the ministry is a shell Jimmy’s heyday.
The margin of error for a horny holy man is probably different than for a high profile secular adulterer. However, Tiger Woods should take note of Jimmy’s travails. Determining the sincerity and commitment of the golfer is a job best left to mind-readers and several journalists mistakenly believe they have that ability.
Woods set a trap for himself by projecting an image of self-rightousness. He now has an opportunity for fan redemption. Most people—especially sports fans—are willing to forgive and try to forget the trials and tribulations of icons. Still, Tiger may receive only one mulligan in rebuilding his image.