OPINION: Tiger Woods Will Never Recover From This Scandal

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LAS VEGAS — The biggest news as the Tiger Woods scandal played out for the third week on gossip sites and chat boards everywhere wasn’t really news.

It might not have even been his wife, Elin, not that it matters much anymore.

A 2-day-old photo of a blonde woman in sunglasses pumping gas into an SUV outside Orlando went viral — which is about all that seems to matter anymore — because, gasp, the woman was not wearing a wedding ring.

Perhaps you’ve heard that Woods and his wife, Elin, are having marital problems.

There’s really not a lot more to the whole thing except for the scale of what happened and the size of the stage it has been playing out on. The greatest golfer ever is exposed as perhaps one of the greatest philanderers ever and, of course, we want to know all the sordid details.

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Transgressions. Infidelity. Sins. Woods has used all three words himself in postings on his Web site owning up to some of his actions.

If only he had cheated on the golf course instead of off it. Marked down a 4 when it should have been a 5, or maybe kicked a ball from behind a tree when no one was looking.

He might have recovered from that. A lot of athletes who cheated with steroids certainly have.

But he’ll never really recover from this.

“In a lot of ways Tiger Woods has broken the hearts of a lot of people who looked at him as a role model who was above all those things,” said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida. “It was just so far out of bounds with what anyone considers normal behavior.”

Indeed, this scandal is more about celebrity than sport. This wasn’t Marion Jones bulking up to win Olympic gold.

But it is Tiger Woods. And that’s all that matters.

“I don’t know if there was anybody ever like Tiger Woods,” Lapchick said. “We had an African-American athlete who totally transcended race and dominated a sport maybe like no one else who seemed to have this perfect life. It turned out not to be true.”

Count Lapchick among those who initially thought Woods would largely escape much fallout from the accident and early reports of infidelity. Those in a graduate class he teaches in sports management thought so, too, predicting Woods would be welcomed back warmly when he returned to the course.

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That was before every day brought another revelation, and more and more women were linked with Woods. Now his students have changed their minds, and Lapchick has, too.

Woods’ sponsors are apparently coming to the same conclusion. No matter that few people know what Accenture does, the consulting company knows it doesn’t want to be associated with Woods anymore.

And although AT&T doesn’t mind spending millions to be a part of the 2012 U.S. Olympic effort, does the company really want Woods to make his return — whenever that might be — with its logo still on his golf bag?

What astounds Lapchick — who is not only a distinguished academic but a pioneer for racial equality in sports — is how the Woods scandal has morphed into something never before seen in sports. Even the sexual assault charges against NBA star Kobe Bryant — while arguably more serious — didn’t create nearly this kind of frenzy.

Bryant has rebounded to a large degree, helped by the passing of time and his dominance on the basketball court. He has his endorsements back, and no one asks him any more what happened that night in a Colorado hotel.

There are, however, still some who remember the repulsive details of the allegations who will never cheer for Bryant again.

Like Bryant, what Woods did had nothing to do with sports. Still, it might end up being the biggest scandal ever in U.S. sports.

Nothing else comes close.

“It’s so far the opposite of what we thought that it makes it so much more dramatic,” Lapchick said. “I think it will always be with him.”

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