Okay, so I’ve refrained from commenting on Tiger Woods ever since a high-profile marital spat turned into a free-for-all where every third-rate bimbo with a story was fair game for a 60 Minutes interview and images of the wife taking a three wood to Tiger’s jaw became the new bad break up standard. Tiger held a press conference today, as per standards George W. Bush would appreciate, in front of a select, hand-picked audience of family, press and assorted sycophants where he trotted out the usual celebrity apology chock full of contrition, humiliation and the ever-popular emotional duress. Getting choked up’s the least he can do.
We’re not watching a human being here, it’s a highly refined marketing image in crisis management. And the media is eating it all up. I watched ESPN this morning right after the press conference, and it wall all Tiger, all the time. The ticker at the bottom that lists the topics coming up all read Tiger, one after another, all the way across the screen. Commentators were talking endlessly about the apology, whether it was enough to appease some undefined mass of people who are apparently angry at him because the guy who endorses the running shoes they own apparently cheated on his wife. Like we don’t have enough to worry about that this guy’s philanderings are so important that we insist, no, demand that he publicly apologize to us? That’s the top priority in our lives, huh?
So he slept around. And around. And around. Who cares? I can virtually guarantee you that 100% of the men on this planet, if put in Tiger Woods’ position, would do the exact same thing. Well, maybe not exactly, some of those rumors seem a little out there, but similar. And do you really think he wanted to get married in the first place? Or is it more likely that it was pushed for by his handlers, the people who believed that if you get married, have a couple kids, we can broaden the scope of the products we can slap your face on and keep the money train rolling.
The reality is that Tiger Woods has been as much about marketing image as he has about exceptional golf right from the beginning. The machine that Michael Jordan laid the foundations for picked up Tiger almost as soon as MJ hung up his sneakers for good, building him up into the next advertising iconic sports figure. And unlike Jordan, who did a good job controlling and selecting the endorsements he pursued, Tiger has let the marketing icon go beyond his professional life, let it creep in and actually structure his personal life. Of course he’s going to rebel from that at some point, any sane human being would.
So we have the media descending on a figure they themselves helped to build up, now heaping scorn on him for presenting a false image that was largely transmitted to the people by their own cameras for their own purposes. A lot of people in the media have made a lot of money on the back of Tiger Woods’ image. And does anyone out here really care, other than in that “It’s interesting to watch a train wreck” sort of way? Was there anyone, anywhere who was so personally offended by Tiger’s behavior that you simply had to have a cathartic release by watching him publicly grovel? Is anyone out there naive enough to believe a word of it? It’s a reality TV soap opera cast with actual people instead of B-list actors, designed and executed to bring in the viewers. This is the start of the second season. By the third season, Tiger comes back to golf a changed man seeking redemption, breaks all the records and gets his face back on the Wheaties box. And it’s not even original.
Michael Jordan did a much better job of crisis management. His first retirement could have been a marketing disaster, regardless of what its cause (and there are some who would say it was about more than just a desire to be a baseball player), but it was expertly handled. Jordan leaving basketball in a quest to play baseball to honor his father’s memory. Then the triumphant return to basketball, bigger than ever. If that was indeed a crisis of sorts, the handling of it was masterful beyond reason. Tiger, on the other hand, is stuck playing the best of a lousy hand, having to play from a position of complete weakness to get back on top. He needs better handlers.
In reality, Tiger Woods is just a guy. An incredibly rich, gifted, powerful guy who could pretty much have whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. His flaw here, aside from being pushed into marriage in the first place, is in not appreciating discretion a bit more. To me, it speaks of a guy who didn’t really have the control over his life that he thought he had. Too many people making too many decisions for him, too many things being done for him and not enough doing it for himself. It’s a danger we all face, obviously to lesser degrees, but we are all commonly susceptible to being led into decisions by those around us. Tiger got burned. Doesn’t mean we will.