Woods doesn't owe media explanation, but he does owe his fans
Most very successful people, particularly athletes, have one trait in common: the desire to control everyone and everything around them.
There is no better example of this than Tiger Woods. No one on Team Tiger speaks for or about him except in the form of an occasional statement made on his Web site. Woods himself rarely speaks publicly on any subject other than birdies, bogeys or a product he's promoting, his charity foundation being one of them. About the only times Woods shows his true feelings is on the golf course: a fist pump after making an important putt or a club slam after hitting a wayward shot. It is not an accident that he named his 155-foot yacht "Privacy."
Perhaps no mega-star athlete in history has done a better job of keeping his private life under tight control. Six years ago, when his intention to ask Elin Nordegren to marry him was leaked 48 hours in advance, Woods was furious. There have been few such breakdowns since.
Until early this past Friday morning, when Woods lost control of his car and plowed it into a fire hydrant and then a tree. At that moment, he lost the thing he most wants: control.
None of us knows what happened in the moments before Woods lost control of his Cadillac Escalade. But on the flip side, Woods can't simply fall back on "this is a private matter" and expect the world to turn its interest elsewhere.
Fairly or unfairly, it doesn't work that way these days. Privacy stops at your front door. Woods has a legal right not to speak to the police, especially when he hasn't been charged with anything and the police say there was no evidence that alcohol was involved in the accident. Woods also has the absolute right not to speak to the media on this subject.
But there's a difference between what one has the right to do and what is right to do.
Woods owes the media nothing. But he does owe his adoring public something.
For years, he has used his extraordinary talent and carefully burnished image to make millions of dollars pitching products ranging from golf equipment to cars to shaving cream to credit cards. He has often refused to play in tournaments whose title sponsors are competitors to one of his own. When you trade on your image, issues related to that image can't be dismissed as "private matters."
The other reason such avoidance doesn't fly is a lot more pragmatic. For years, Woods has intimidated most of the golf media. TV networks have been told in the past that Woods would speak to certain members of their broadcast crews, but not others. The networks have complied with his various rules. Woods rarely does any one-on-one print interviews except if he is under contract to a publication (Golf Digest) or if he has a specific agenda. Those who cover golf live in fear of being "cut off" by Team Tiger and rarely stray into subjects that haven't been approved.
Hiding out in the wake of the accident was a mistake and proof that Woods, who is smart, isn't being advised well. He should have spoken to the police as soon as possible. By turning away the police for three days and bringing in some stonewalling lawyer, Woods appears as if he's got something to hide and keeps the story alive.
Worse for Woods, the incident has brought a lot of other media into play. The tabloids and gossip Web sites couldn't care less if he cuts them off. The same is true for the joke writers at Letterman and Leno and Conan, among others. Already cyberspace is filled with one-liners about what happened Friday morning. Woods has become the one thing he probably least wants to become: a punch line.
It is probably too late to completely shut that faucet off. But he can slow it to a drip and he can engender the sympathy of most in the public with some form of an explanation about what happened. Saying the accident was "my fault" isn't enough. Even the plethora of Tiger sycophants out there never blamed the fire hydrant.
To speculate on what occurred is unfair. But only Woods can stop the speculation. Something got him into the car in a state so frazzled he literally couldn't drive safely a few yards from his own driveway. He doesn't need to go into a lot of detail, but it is best for Woods to admit that something happened because clearly something did. Woods should read this statement at a news conference and then answer questions. If anyone asks about the tabloid reports, he should smile and say, "Come on, guys, I told you what happened that caused me to leave the house; that should be enough. Can we please move on?"
The minute Woods comes out from behind the Isleworth gates and gives a bare bones explanation and answers a few questions, this will be 99 percent over. Until then, the rumors and jokes will continue.
Right now Tiger Woods has lost control of his public persona. There's only one person who can get it back. The sooner Woods understands that, the better off he will be.
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