3 years later: A look back at one of the biggest sports scandals of the century
– By Jamil Karim
Let’s rewind to 2:30 AM on November 27, 2009. Tiger Woods had just crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant, tree, and several hedges (Note: A tad ironic that a man named “Woods” would find a way to crash his car into a tree and hedges, but I digress). He had minor injuries and wouldn’t divulge into any more details regarding the incident.
Prior to that point, here’s what we knew about Tiger Woods: He was the best golfer on the planet, a loving husband and father, and was primed in a few years to own the most major championships in the history of professional golf. Life was good. Tiger Woods was the only pro athlete on the planet that could unequivocally say that he was bigger than the sport itself. But then, 2:30am on November 27th happened and life hasn’t been good for Tiger since.
Over the next few weeks, revelations about Tiger Woods’ private life came to the forefront, which included dozens of women coming out and claiming to have had intimate affairs with the world’s top golfer. It appeared that Tiger Woods took Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan a little too literally.
Late in 2009, Tiger spoke in front of the media and began to apologize for his transgressions. I always find it funny that a prominent figure needs to use the media to disseminate this information, considering it was the media that helped exacerbate his situation in the first place.
From a PR perspective, Tiger’s apology was the right move, but I firmly believed then, like I do now, that it came out far too late. When a story like this gets out of control, it has the potential to snowball and trying to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction can become tough. Tiger needed to have a press conference within days of the affair revelations becoming public and put out a strong message with his side of the story. Why let the media do that for you? For a guy who showed so much control on the golf course, he showed a shockingly low amount of control as his name got dragged through the mud. Needless to say, Tiger Woods could’ve used a mulligan as he lost complete control of the situation.
In March of 2010, Tiger Woods announced he would be returning to golf to play at The Masters. The Masters is the PGA’s flagship tournament, and a place where Tiger had won on four separate occasions. The Masters is also known for its very secure and protective environment for golfers, so Tiger gets an A+ for opting to go with this tournament for his return. In the days leading up to the tournament, questions surrounded his return. How would he handle the pressure? Is he still the same golfer? If he had a 15-foot putt to win the tournament, and every woman he slept with was sitting in the front row, could he sink it?
Tiger finished the tournament at a respectable fourth place and life seemed to be turning around for him. Key word: seemed.
Over the next two and a half years, Tiger would not win a tournament. He dropped from number one to 58 in the world rankings. He fired his caddy. He hired a new swing coach. He suffered through numerous injuries. He was linked (albeit very remotely) to a performance enhancing drug dealer. Oh, and if you haven’t figured this out already, he got divorced and his wife, Elin Nordegren, instantly became the people’s choice for season 8 of “The Bachelorette”. Remember when life was good for Tiger Woods? Yeah, me neither.
From a PR perspective, his struggles on the golf course compounded this problem and extended the media scrutiny around Tiger Woods for much longer than anyone could have expected. Tiger’s inability to win, or even play remotely close to the pre-November 27th Tiger Woods, meant he couldn’t put the incident behind him. Every time he lost a tournament, the rhetoric surrounding his loss would be: “He’s still not over what happened. It’s all because he cheated on his wife”. True? Maybe. Fair? Probably not. As mentioned earlier, Tiger suffered through injuries, had to hire a swing coach, and spent most of 2010 recovering from an ACL injury. Couldn’t those have been reasons he struggled as well? The media continued to play up the affairs and his infidelity because they could. Tiger wasn’t able to give the media a reason to put the incident behind him, and much like it did at the start, the situation continued to snowball.
Let’s fast forward to present day. Tiger eventually won a tournament. Life appears to be moving on for Tiger, but until he wins a Major tournament and takes back control on the golf course, he will always be stained by what happened. Should he have taken control of the situation right when it happened? Absolutely. Did he compound the problem (his fault or not) by not being able to play golf at his usual, high level? Absolutely.
As time goes on, Tiger Woods will be able to distance himself from the revelations that came out nearly three years ago. However, as we look back on one of the biggest sporting scandals of this century, we can’t help but give Tiger Woods a failing grade. He lost control early. He lost control when he got back on the golf course. And now he appears to be regaining control at a time when everyone’s opinions on him are already too strong to change.
“I used to love Tiger Woods because he was a champion. But after that sex scandal, the man is a god!” – Tom Haverford