It’s gotten so out of hand in the last week, it’s difficult to know where to start: the number of extramarital dalliances attributed truthfully or falsely to Tiger Woods has spiraled higher with (literally) every passing day. The latest number — 13? 14? 16? — doesn’t matter to Tiger’s wife, Elin Nordegren, who has reportedly set the machinery of divorce in motion. The lawyers are circling for the expected redistribution of wealth to come.
“It’s what you do next that counts,” the message of the Accenture Web site recently read — a message removed before Dec. 13, when Accenture dropped Tiger as its highest-profile endorsement action figure. Accenture is just one of the companies Rethinking Its Relationship with the world’s greatest golfer.
Last week, Gatorade dropped its Tiger Focus brand of theanine-and-electrolyte-laden flavored water, claiming that the move had been discussed internally well before the wheels fell off the Escalade in the driveway. Gillette, the epitome of a clean-shaven American brand, has also suspended its endorsement deal.
And announcing his intent to step away from the pro game for an indefinite period, Tiger issued a statement of full-on contrition. “I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children,” he said. “I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness. It may not be possible to repair the damage I've done, but I want to do my best to try.”
Then, just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse, news came reflecting the irony of public recognition, something seemingly unlikely but true just the same: On Tuesday, Tiger was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Decade, in recognition of his posting 64 victories during the last 10 years, including 12 major tournaments. (Given what was happening in his private life over that time, and the prodigious energy those distractions must have demanded, his tour victories are even more impressive. When did this guy sleep?)
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Despite the flights to respectability that some companies have made, Nike is sticking with him — the company no stranger to the controversies of athletes and their various antics off the court or the field.
Nike Chairman and apparel emperor Phil Knight told SportsBusiness Journal last week: “When his career is over, you’ll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip, but the media is making a big deal out of it right now.”
But it’s more than the media making a big deal out of it. It’s a big deal for the companies considering walking away from Tiger and a scandal of a size we still can’t get dimensions for yet. It’s a big deal for the PGA Tour, as professional golf comes to grips with an immediate future without its most visible and bankable component. And it’s more quietly a big deal for African American men, forced to contend with another stain on their existential reputation (one that polite company would likely exclude from the current discussion, saying it’s not pertinent).
To this point, Tiger hasn’t been seen in public, apparently content to hunker down at his Florida Xanadu and plot his options. He’s still very much in the rough right now. It’s worse than that. Tiger’s in a sand trap of public perception and all he’s got is his Scotty Cameron putter.
We’re a forgiving nation — hell, look at the break we cut Richard Nixon. But Tiger’s got to stand trial in the court of public opinion. He’s called on to do the public stations of the cross he bears. It’s still what he does next that counts. Until the public hears from him again (not in dry, professionally bloodless statements, but from him directly); until he undertakes to move the media machinery with the consummate skill he’s shown before, the bunker he’s in will stretch from here to the clubhouse.
It’s time for Focus he can’t get out of a bottle.
Image credits: Tiger: Associated Press. Gatorade Tiger Focus: Via ozbo.com