Any time sports culture and tabloid culture collide—especially when you also mix law enforcement somewhere into the equation—attentive fireworks are bound to ensue. The fine points of any matter are rarely the true point of concern when it leaps off the sports page and onto the front page.
That is a concept that escaped Tiger Woods and is a big reason for his current ordeal exploding out of proportion.
The biggest lesson throughout athletics that one should take away is this—just fess up. If Tiger Woods had come out from day one with enough of the truth, he would be stepping out of this mess with very little tarnish and could probably have avoided the digging that is uncovering more information he would prefer not become public. The hyper-moral minority would still be on his case, true, yet the outcry would be far smaller.
When I was driving home from Thanksgiving’s family festivities I had the radio tuned to a news station. It gave a blurb about Tiger’s accident. My response was "I hope he’s OK," and it pretty much faded out of my mind.
A few days later comes the report that he had just ducked out of his third consecutive police interview on the subject. An eyebrow was now perked.
If he had disclosed the bare bones of the events surrounding his accident to the police, of course it would have come to public light. He can’t bury it and no police department would be able to head off a leak of something that big. But he would have had the power to meter just how the disclosure came about.
If one concept from the world of cinema should be applied to real life it is this—the implicit is always worse than the explicit. How many times is it said, “That movie was scary because of what they didn’t show you,” thus letting your imagination fill in the blanks. When an attempt to withhold everything is made, two things happen:
1. People dig and find out more than if they were just told.
2. Imaginations start taking things places far worse than the truth usually is (regardless of the elaborateness of the truth)
People also begin to gain interest not because of what the information is going to be, but because they are told that they can’t have it. By saying no, he just made his own secrets that much more salacious.
There are a few athletes who supersede simple athletic status and have become walking corporate entities. By becoming captains of endorsement, they are taking that concept of “I am just an athlete, let me excel in my sport and have that be enough” out of the equation. You sign a shoe deal—fine, make the money you can. When you make yourself into an empire you invite a higher level of scrutiny upon yourself and must realize the potential pitfalls.
The public forgives all given enough time and enough production from one’s given sport. If Tiger continues to make a run at Jack Nicklaus’ record, he will eventually have 99.9% of his fanbase back.
It will take a good deal longer, however, given what he mired himself in with attempts at denial. No one discusses Favre’s offseason while he is putting together an MVP season. Kobe Bryant survived a PR blow that witnessed sponsors jumping from his sinking name like it were a burning building. Chad Johnson’s shenanigans are lumped into "harmless fun" now that the Bengals are having a good year.
We can look to baseball for the perfect example of this idea put into motion. Baseball players of the "steroid era" are all questioned. Anyone who refuses to state their case and remains mum on the subject is finding mud all over their name. Not proving innocence is equated with guilt. The even greater crime is not admitting to it.
As with the steroid allegations, Pete Rose would probably be in the hall of fame and reinstated to be able to possibly manage a team if he had admitted to gambling right at the outset. His ardent denial cost him any chance at baseball’s forgiveness. The crime was refusal; that is what cost him.
Alex Rodriguez just this year announced he had injected steroids. He was reviled for a few weeks, perhaps a month in some circles. When the playoffs rolled around, the questions swirling around him focused more on his past history of mediocre playoff performances while next to nil was said about his past performance enhancement. He got wise, came clean, and now is back to being one of New York’s kings.
Athletes should learn. You should just come out with it and make your teary eyed public statement. Don’t appear to be trying to hide something. Don’t make your "I’m caught" confessions out as back-handed slams at the media for pulling out what you try to bury. Don’t tell a public drunk on the constant flow of information no.
He should not have cheated. I won’t bother with the morality of it; that is irrelevant and not my place to address. It is bad business and bad press. But the biggest mistake Tiger Woods ever made was not fessing up.
It is not about whether the public does or doesn’t have a right to know. One must recognize what is modern culture; someone will dig beyond what is their right. It is unfortunate, but it is fact. So make the information come from your mouth. Appear somber instead of reticent. Don’t put the power in the hands of the tabloid talking heads. This is where Tiger Woods struck the greatest blow to his empire, and this is the lesson all athletes should learn.
To err is human, to conceal is to commit temporary suicide. Just give up a piece of the truth and the world will let you get back to your life a whole lot sooner.