Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exit, Pursued By an Angry Wife

I do not know whether public relations is an art or a science, but managing your public image is a vital human undertaking.

It is even more important when you are a world-famous athlete and a major brand.

All told, most of us want to ignore Tiger Woods' recent automobile accident. No schadenfreude there.

Such is the respect we accord to a man who is arguably the greatest athlete of the past decade that we have no interest in seeing him embarrassed. We might gain some satisfaction by watching an arrogant narcissist brought down by his hubris, but Tiger Woods was never that man.

These days Tiger Woods is as close as we get to a great American hero.

Now a coterie of lawyers and PR professions are explaining how Tiger should handle the situation. Mostly they are advising him to hold a press conference and explain what happened. Come clean, they say. Open up, they say. Be honest with the public, they say.

Yet, Tiger Woods did not cheat at golf. He did not enhance his game with controlled substances. He did not commit a felony that might take him off the tour by putting him in jail. Apparently, he was involved in some kind of quarrel with his wife. One fails to see the relevance of a public apology.

One lawyer suggested that what was good for David Letterman should be good for Tiger Woods. As though all celebrities are created equal.

True enough, both Tiger Woods and David Letterman are celebrities. But athletes are not like other celebrities. No one is trying to emulate David Letterman. No executive is trying to apply the secrets of David Letterman's success to corporate leadership.

People emulate Tiger Woods. He is a fierce and successful competitor; he has the demeanor, the focus, and the concentration that befit someone who is the best in the world. And his competitive stance involves excellent character.

Other celebrities, whether stand-up comics, actors, or clowns perform behind masks. They perform a script whose outcome is given in advance. They are not playing in a game; they are playing roles on a stage.

If I had to invent a concept, I would say that athletes, unlike other celebrities, have face in the game. Most true celebrities live lives filled with drama. Whether on the stage or off, they do not compete; they entertain.

Tiger Woods on the golf course is Tiger Woods. He is not playing Tiger Woods. He does not make a living pretending to be someone he is not. He is not acting a role in a movie.

Tiger Woods does not putt from behind a mask. He shows his face. And he uses his face to achieve the focus and concentration, the unflappable demeanor that has inspired people around the world. See my post, "The Eye of the Tiger." Link here.

All of this to say that it is not a simple matter for a Tiger Woods to show off facial injuries in public. It would not be entirely unfair to say that, both literally and figuratively, he seems to have lost some face in his accident.

Think what you will, a man who bears scratches and contusions he suffered at the hand of his wife does not look like a fierce competitor.

Were Woods to go out in public in his current condition, his face would travel around the world in light speed. This would compromise his brand and his self-confidence.

People would be forced to juxtapose the image of the man whose wife beat him with the image of the man who is the ultimate competitor. Worse than that, once everyone is making the comparison, Woods would have that much more difficulty recovering his true face.

No comments: