Missing ingredients in Tiger's apology

If you want to know the true cost of what Tiger Woods has lost because of his infidelities, note what was missing when he finally made a public statement Friday.

His wedding ring and his wife.

You can argue whether Tiger's 13-minute confession, which got the TV air play of a presidential speech, was or wasn't scripted, or whether he was truly being sincere. But the absence of his wife, Elin, in this perilous time spoke volumes about just how bad things are for one of the most iconic sports figures in history.

Call me cynical, but I expected Elin to be by Tiger's side. Frankly, that's usually how this situation plays out. You see the doting wife standing by her man, no matter how much embarrassment he has caused. Hillary Clinton did it (a few times). Silda Wall Spitzer did it. And for a time, Elizabeth Edwards did it, too.

Elin's absence is telling. And because of it, I gained a newfound respect for this woman I don't know.

She easily could have allowed herself to be used a prop to garner sympathy and help restore her husband's reputation. But the decision to stay away was more authentic than anything her husband said.

To date, Tiger's wife and children remain the only real victims of this scandal. They are the ones who deserve continuous apologizes -- not the media, his fans, the general public or even the PGA. They are the ones who deserve an explanation for his infidelities -- not us, and certainly not Oprah.

Although I stand by my opinion that Tiger's public confession was unnecessary, I do hope this situation is a teaching moment for those athletes leading double lives the way Tiger did, and for those who believe Tiger's infidelities are really no big deal.

Elin's absence and Tiger's missing ring say differently.

There's a perception that pro athletes cheating on their wives is as prevalent as cracks on a sidewalk, and so the women in those marriages should know and expect this kind of behavior. As if one of the marital vows were: "I promise you the ultimate humiliation."

No matter what you think of Tiger's wife or their marriage, she and their children didn't deserve to see tabloids and television shows reporting the intimate details of her husband/their father's numerous affairs. They didn't deserve to go through the drama of his public apology for, as he put it, "irresponsible and selfish behavior." And they don't deserve being stalked by the media. All that blame, of course, belongs to Tiger.

Infidelity has become such an accepted mainstay among professional athletes that we've become desensitized to the damage it causes, and that's unfortunate. I've heard people jokingly ask, "Who wouldn't?" when they talk about Tiger's transgressions, or derisively say, "Hey, everybody does it."

Try telling that to Elin and their children.

So Tiger isn't the first public figure to have an affair. That doesn't matter. He deserves extremely harsh criticism for what he's done to his family.

His children are still young and probably don't understand what's happening. But there will come a time when they search daddy's name in Google and find the sort of information that will warrant an uncomfortable explanation.

None of us knows what will become of Tiger's personal life, whether his family will remain intact. But it doesn't matter whether Tiger wins 10 more Masters and breaks Jack Nicklaus' record. No professional success will erase the harm he caused to his own household.

"I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply," he said. "I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself."

Woods gets it -- now. We hope, anyway. Tiger might one day regain his reputation -- at least in the eyes of some -- but it could come at the expense of losing his family.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.