Tiger Woods’ scandal proves once again that celebrity gossip mongering is a blood sport. The bigger the celebrity, the more the blood will flow. In Tiger’s case, he can open up a blood bank. Though it’s unlikely to reach the insanity that was unleashed when Michael Jackson died last summer, it will take the feeding frenzy to a new, all-time low, not because of his marital infidelity, but because of his immense stature as an iconic personality and global brand.
Our addiction to sycophantic enabling of celebrity bad behavior is beyond the pale. We reward and celebrate mediocrity. We give a moral equivalency and equal airtime to those knowingly doing the wrong thing. The discussion isn’t about right versus wrong anymore, but instead the takeaway is “don’t get caught!” Woods’ actions aren’t praise-worthy, but the punishment meted out in the court of public opinion of his private, personal situation is off the charts. Tiger’s poor job at managing the damage control process seems to be as big an affront to the public as what got him into this position.
His off-links activities are irrelevant to the golf world in the scheme of what he has done for the sport in the past 15 years. Let’s remember he plays golf and doesn’t hold elected public office. He didn’t impugn the integrity of his sport by betting or use performance enhancing drugs. Does Tiger Woods deserve to be vilified like O.J. Simpson, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Marv Albert, Pete Rose, Alex Rodriguez, and many others?
I don’t play golf, and I’m not a Tiger Woods fan, but his accomplishments on the golf course are both incredible and undeniable. I wouldn’t defend his actions. He hurt himself, his wife and their children. But not us, and certainly not the media. We have no stake in this, and he owes us nothing. Tiger Woods is hardly the first mega-star caught in mess of his own making, but I’ll bet that his public image and marketability will come out of this a lot better than most people think. A little proportion and perspective will bare this out.
Does Tiger’s bad judgment pale in comparison to past superstar athletes embroiled in scandals such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant? Yes. Remember Michael Jordan’s sudden “retirement” from the NBA back in 1993 was widely believed to be due to his gambling problems? He returned two years later to lead the Chicago Bulls to three more NBA titles, and then, despite the public nature of his messy divorce, his Nike brand continues to be a global powerhouse.
Kobe Bryant was on trial in 2004, accused of sexually assaulting a woman. He admitted to having an adulterous encounter with the accuser, but denied the sexual assault allegation. The case was dismissed when the woman refused to testify, and a separate civil suit was settled out of court. As a result, his endorsement deal with McDonald’s was cancelled. In retrospect he emerged relatively unscathed.
Once the trial ended and the story faded, the deal with Nike he signed prior to the trial was put on hold for two years before Nike began promoting his line of basketball shoes. Bryant’s reputation rebounded and was rehabilitated to the point that he now endorses Coca-Cola’s Vitamin Water brand and Guitar Hero World Tour. By 2007, CNN estimated Kobe Bryant’s endorsement deals at $16 million a year. Another NBA trophy for Kobe and the sky will be the limit again.
Last year, U.S. Olympic multi-gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps lost his endorsement deal with Kellogg’s over his publicly photographed pot smoking. Cheating is sheer stupidity, and smoking pot isn’t any smarter, but it’s still against the law. Kellogg’s did the right thing. Phelps’ bong hit sent the wrong message to kids. His actions were more about youthful indiscretion than anything, and the punishment of losing his lucrative deal fit the crime. His marketability is still on the upswing. Add a few more gold medals in 2012 and no one will remember his misstep.
Martha Stewart went to jail for income tax evasion, and at the time, was vilified as a heinous individual and has since reinvented herself as a kinder, gentler Martha. Her “brand” bounced back with little-to-no damage and is stronger than ever. She cheated, got caught and paid the price by going to jail. Now she’s perceived as being a far less polarizing individual, and her marketability continues to grow. Perhaps as a result of her incarceration, the public is willing to forgive when celebrities are as flawed and human as the rest of us. It brings them down to our level and closer to us in many respects.
It’s no stretch to believe Tiger Woods will keep a low profile, sponsors will keep their Tiger ads and TV spots in cold storage and eventually, he’ll re-emerge publicly and professionally to continue his career as arguably one of the greatest golfers of all time. When everything is forgotten, he’ll get even more lucrative endorsement deals as a result of his prowess on the links. Until then isn’t Tiger Woods entitled to the same consideration we get at work? “So long as your personal business doesn’t affect your performance on the job, then it’s a non-issue.”
— Joel Kirstein, Creative Director, CPG/Shopper Marketing