Amid scrutiny, Woods admits to 'transgressions,' apologizes

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

A day after police said they would not seek criminal charges against Tiger Woods in connection with last week's car accident, Woods posted a "profound apology" on his Web site while facing another round of allegations in tabloid publications.

After acknowledging in a lengthy statement on that he let down his family because of unspecified "transgressions," the world's richest sports star remained in his Florida home for a fifth straight day and continued to insist on privacy in his personal affairs.

Woods's apology came shortly before a report released by the Florida Highway Patrol revealed he did $3,300 in damage to public and private property, and hours after new charges of marital infidelity surfaced on a celebrity magazine Web site. The disclosures raised fresh questions about the personal and financial hit Woods would take in the wake of his wreck on his next-door neighbor's front lawn in the wee hours of the morning Friday.

Forbes magazine reported this fall that Woods had become the first billionaire athlete after seven years as the world's highest-paid. Not only is he golf's most dominant, he also is sponsored by a host of gold-standard companies such as AT&T, Accenture and TAG Heuer.

But Woods is also considered one of the world's most private and image-conscious sports stars. In the last week, he has faced exposure and personal scrutiny like never before, both through the legal process and its open-record requirements and the relentless pursuit of the tabloid media, which have sought explanations for the accident that he has declined to provide.

"Up until now, his image has been so absolutely clean," said David Bartlett, senior vice president of the District-based Levick Strategic Communications. "This is the first time the Tiger Woods brand has been dented in any way."

The Florida Highway Patrol said Tuesday it had closed its investigation after giving Woods a $164 traffic citation for careless driving and four points on his license, but the tabloid reports have not waned, and it remains to be seen whether Woods's myriad sponsors will stick with him. Some crisis-management experts say Woods's sponsors -- 13 are cited on his Web site -- likely will watch news events closely but decide to ride out this period.

"In the long run, the sponsors Tiger has probably will stand by him because the brand he brings is so big, and because of his position in the sport; it's not like it's going to change over this," said William Moran, a partner at the New York law firm McCarter & English and a crisis management expert. "I think it will impact him personally, in a non-financial way, [and] that will trouble him. At this stage, it seems he is more attuned to his image than the money he is making from it."

Woods, who police said suffered cuts to his mouth and lips, has not appeared in public since the accident and pulled out of his own charity golf event in Thousand Oaks, Calif., this weekend. He declined three times to talk to Florida Highway Patrol troopers and has communicated to the public and media only through statements on his Web site.

In Wednesday's extensive statement, he said more about his insistence on keeping his and his wife Elin Nordegren's personal affairs out of the public eye than he did about his own behavior, about which he offered no specifics.

"Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means," Woods wrote. "For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious. Elin has always done more to support our family and shown more grace than anyone could possibly expect.

"But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that."

Woods launched himself out of the privacy of his own home and into the public realm at just after 2 a.m. Friday when, according to the crash report released Wednesday by the Florida Highway Patrol, he jumped two curbs almost immediately after leaving his driveway.

Though he advanced just 50 feet up the street, he reached a speed of 30 mph and damaged a neighbor's tree ($200 in damage), a county fire hydrant ($3,000) and community hedges ($100). Woods also did $8,000 in damage to his 2009 Cadillac Escalade, the report said.

"I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart," Woods said. "I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone. "

The statement posted by Woods came shortly after a news magazine released a tape on its Web site that it claimed was a voice mail from Woods to an alleged girlfriend and Las Vegas cocktail waitress. In the recording, a man who identifies himself as "Tiger" says his wife has discovered her phone number and asks her to take her name off of her answering machine.

Two days before the accident, the National Enquirer first published allegations of infidelity by Woods. The woman at the center of that story, a New York nightclub waitress, has denied the charges.

A Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman said it uncovered no allegations of domestic abuse in its investigation and was not pursuing a criminal investigation of any sort in connection with the crash. Woods's wife told police that she busted a rear window of the Escalade with a golf club to get Woods out.

Meantime, three members of the family that reside at the house whose property Woods struck with his car said through an attorney they saw no evidence of marital discord when they arrived at the scene early last Friday morning.

"My opinion is it's going to fade away very quickly," said Peter Morrissey, a Boston University professor and expert in crisis management. "It's not completely incidental, because he's a brand unto himself, but I think Tiger's brand value is assured."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company