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Just like Tiger Woods, sports journalism should keep it inside the lines

"I think we can officially say that Tiger has lost his game and his mind right now." CBS analyst Nick Faldo on Tiger Woods kicking a club at the Masters.

As Woods discovered this weekend, it's not easy winning green. The putative favourite entering the weekend (okay, Jim Nantz of CBS was all-in on Fred Couples), Woods disintegrated in a show of pique, bad language and even worse swings. The four-time champion ended up finishing plus-5, four hours before the winner Bubba Watson strolled off the 10th green at Augusta National in triumph.

But then, Woods had plenty on his mind. Noted columnist Rick Reilly had chosen the first day of the tournament to resurrect stories of how Woods had ostracized his three half-siblings by father Earl Woods – one of whom is suffering from multiple sclerosis. This followed the release last week of a tell-all book by Woods's former coach Hank Haney in which Haney unburdened himself of a number of private facts about the former world's No. 1 golfer.

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Many felt that while Reilly's story was defensible, Haney ransacking his memory chest was a violation of a trust, written or unwritten, with Woods. Haney had defended himself by saying Woods was an historic figure and his observations were only about golf. But in golf's culture, Haney was believed by many to have crossed a line.

A line breached last week as well, in the release of audio recordings made by former New Orleans Saints' defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams, in which Williams had encouraged his players to deliberately injure rival players. The tape was supposedly a private recording made for former Saints player Steve Gleason, who's been diagnosed with ALS.

Gleason, with the Saints permission, had engaged film maker Sean Pamphilon to make a film about his football life that his son could have after Gleason's death. When the Bounty Gate scandal involving the Saints emerged, Pamphilon decided to publish the audio tape – without Gleason's permission. Pamphilon said he was forced to act by his conscience and concern for future football players.

In a statement, Gleason disagreed: "Sean Pamphilon and I have an agreement that all recordings ultimately belong to me and my family. Nothing can be released without my explicit approval. I did not authorize the public release of any recordings."

What obligations does a journalist have when faced, like Pamphilon or Haney, with a battle between the public's right to know and an issue of their own conscience? Haney apparently had no coaching pre-nup with Woods, only a relationship Haney described as employer-employee. So while it may be considered bad form to allege Woods hurt his knee pretending to be a Navy Seal, it is within the bounds of journalistic propriety.

Pamphilon is on far less certain ground if, as Gleason says, the tapes belonged to the former football player. While buttressing the original bounty allegations against Williams and the Saints, the tapes were apparently not his to release. While Pamphilon thought he was serving a greater good – in this case protecting football players – he did the journalistic profession no favours by violating a trust.

His days trying to get the confidence of subjects are probably done as well.

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