Tiger Woods drives by Allison.jpg

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

  • simi silber

    Good article. I could not agree any more. This poor schmuck is being vilified as you indicate.

  • Tiger Woods didn’t violate a public trust like the politicians did. To my knowledge, he didn’t kill anyone, as is suggested with OJ.
    What he did do is violate a private trust with his family. It doesn’t affect me. I don’t dwell on it and am tired of hearing about it in the news. Our government is pushing us deeper and deeper into debt and devaluing the dollar by printing money. We’re not hearing much in the news about that and it will affect us, our children, and our grandchildren.

  • I don’t think Tiger violated any public trust; rather, Accenture and the other corporate sponsors did when they chose him as their spokesceleb. We can debate back and forth whether his qualities or shortcomings affected the brands but the real issue is that the businesses couldn’t think of anything better to say (or better ways in which to say things) to their customers. The endorsement model is vacuous on a good day, so I say we should question the wisdom of using ANY celeb in lieu of meaningful and relevant brand communications.
    Great post!

  • Mike Benhaim

    The day this story broke, I searched the web for more info because I was certain I had missed something; domestic violence, murder, rape. I knopw it’s not cool to be completely desensitized to infidelity, but he IS, after all, a professional athlete. Sorry everyone, but this has been going on since the beginning of time, and regardless of right or wrong, this is not a crime, nor should it be news. What makes Tiger more accountable than your married buddy who is an accountant or entrepreneur? It’s pure gossip, glorified in disgusting self-righteousness.
    I refuse to read anymore about it (but I probably will).
    Thanks Joel.

  • Joel,
    Very well written article, timely, and you make some good points.
    I agree Tiger Woods will be back playing golf sooner than later. Also, he will not suffer too much in the endorsement arena in the long run and life will go on. A male friend of mine said, “I suspect men all over the world are toasting Tiger, but not to their wives or girlfriends.”
    On a personal level I could care less what he does. However, I do think his actions have had a huge impact on his wife and perhaps ultimately his children. Being publicly humiliated by one’s husband must be painful beyond belief. My heart goes out to Elin.
    Tiger is responsible for what he did with these women. If you play with fire you get burned! He obviously has no great understanding about women nor does he care to. Some women love to talk about their “relationships” with anyone that will listen, especially if it involves a billionaire celebrity.
    Now as a psychologist I could make a great case that he is a Narcissist. Fits the psychological profile perfectly but Joel you weren’t looking for a “shrink’s” assessment of his personality.
    Thanks for a very good read.

  • Nice take on Tiger. No doubt he will emerge at some point, slightly charred but intact.
    I wonder what would have happened if it had all been stopped at one mistress? Would it be yesterday’s news already? My guess is that the whole thing would be over…
    When we are talking about cheating on a marriage, the only difference between one and twelve is the public perception. Once he cheated, the line was crossed. It shouldn’t really matter if it’s one or one thousand; the damage has been done.
    Good Post.

  • Excellent points!
    While few of us would (I hope) condone infidelity, it should not be confused with news. Like so much of the gossip that fills news blocks, the number of people it actually affects is quite small compared to the huge block of people who are willing to gawk in the same way we gawk when we pass an auto accident.
    Tiger may be narcissistic but it also seems he’s either quite insecure (why else the need for the string of conquests?) or perhaps he’s not being taken care of at home. Regardless, neither is an excuse for his behavior.
    The greater societal problem, though, it our inclination to celebrate bad behavior. Think of all the ways we glorify it: TV programs like Cheaters and Bridezillas, Paris Hilton (just in general) and Brittany’s melt-down. This coarsening of the culture concerns me much more than simply one (more) pro athlete who, for whatever reason, can’t keep his pants zipped.
    Finally, I agree that celebrity endorsements (whether of a product or political cause) are vacuous at best (unless the celeb is speaking about something they actually KNOW SOMETHING about, like golf equipment). I can also see why an advertiser might want to steer clear of Tiger until the flap subsides. But there’s also the school of thought that “there is no such thing as bad publicity” and a bold company might actually gain publicity for itself by publicly refusing to dump Woods.

  • joel kirstein

    I really doubt that Tiger Woods is too concerned about the many other women he involved in this mess. I agree with Jeff and Mike that the number of times he cheated is irrelevant and the posture the public feigns in response to this nonsense is disturbingly hypocritical.
    We should see the everyday role models are our peers, not over-indulged celebrities we build up in our minds and take a knife to the minute they undermine our time and judgment. If anything, the average guy who cheats on his with is far more damaging to his kids than some abstract celebrity that has no realistic connection.
    I would like to see a “shrink’s” assessment of his personality because his behavior seems typical to the dysfunctional silo and strata mega-celebrities operate in, being surrounded by parasitical sycophants and a gutless middle with no voice of reason. I can’t see how or why his poor wife would take him back. She doesn’t need the money.
    Tiger did a really bad job at handling the situation either by his own doing and not listening to the advice he was given, or the advice was he followed was horribly, ill-thought out. That feed into all these women coming out of the wood works. The timing was the perfect storm to take a bad situation and turn it into a media, end-of-year cottage industry. Something had to fill the Michael Jackson void.
    What really struck me is how Tigers Woods is additionally being taken to task for the heinous crime of being “bad on TV.” I doubt any of us would be a modern day Winston Churchill in the face of their world crashing down around them. Since day one of his career, he has never looked very
    adept or comfortable on front of the media and his Nike TV spots don’t count! Just because David Letterman did a much better job slithering out from his own self-created fiasco, doesn’t portray him in a better light than Tiger Woods.
    In fact, his situation is far worse with deep legal and criminal implications.
    Is there anything more nebulous, yet precarious at the same time as a celebrity endorsement? The slipperiest of slopes!

  • Sheryl Herman

    Yes, Absolutely, Tiger did cross moral lines. But we the public seem to have a love hate relationship with “celebrities”. So, today we have put him on the naughty list, and tomorrow he once again will become that shining star we have come to expect. Perhaps a little tarnished but in time and with some good polish Tiger will be gleaming in our eyes once again.
    Great post!
    Just a thought for Tiger at this time, What kind of legacy are you going to leave your children now?

  • joel kirstein

    If I’m looking to buy gold clubs, golf shoes, golf etc? Tiger’s the man! Beyond that though I too could care less what he endorses. By the way, anyone else notice he was driving a Cadillac SUV and not a Buick Enclave when he had his accident?
    The new low that the media has plummeted to ravaging this carcass like a pack of psychotic hyenas is sickening and in the long run actually works in Tiger’s favor in allowing the public to misdirect their anger about this at the media, and deservedly so…
    Strategically, the relationship makes an incredible amount of success because before Tiger Woods, Nike had no golf product sales. FOX News claimed that Nike sales of licensed Tiger Woods gold products neared $500 million. Add in the the fact that Phil Knight publicly threw his support behind Tigers and that means Tiger isn’t going anywhere without Nike.
    Long after Tiger retires from the links, his licensed Nike golf products will resonate at retail not unlike the Nike AIR JORDAN line has continued to be a cash cow since Michael Jordan permanently retired from the NBA. This scandal will neither take ownership of, or solely define Tiger Woods.

  • Harvardbiz.org, as picked up by Bloomberg, had a very interesting and thought-provoking article on the risk vs. value of celebrity endorsements: http://bit.ly/6kzMMy
    There’s no such thing as a skeleton in a closet any more when you are a high profile celeb, and brands better recognize that straight up. Is it worth it any more when every cellphone is a camera and every tale out of school is a potential blog item? My blog continues that discussion: http://www.commcoreconsulting.com/blog/

  • joel kirstein

    This just in: Vick recipient of Block Courage Award…
    Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick, who joined the Eagles this season after serving 18 months in federal prison for his role in a dog fighting ring, has been named recipient of the team’s Ed Block Courage Award.
    Given annually, the award honors NFL players who exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Recipients are selected in a vote by their teammates for team effort as well as individual performance.
    Is Michael Vick can be seen in a new light after his heinous criminal behavior and is allowed to move forward with career, Tiger has a mush shorter road back!