Personal Finance: What's the price of happiness for Tiger Woods?

By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, December 3, 2009; 10:34 AM

Since Tiger Woods is a highly paid pitchman who encourages us to buy products based on who he is and what he stands for, are we out of line to question his personal behavior?

That's the Color of Money question of the week.

Why even ask that question in context of a personal finance newsletter, you might ask? Well, as a celebrity he gets paid mightily to sell us stuff.

Corporations have banked on the notion that we admire Tiger, and, until now, the golfer has done a great job of selling us on his good-looking, squeaky-clean, model athlete image. But that may soon change. Woods was in a one-car accident just after 2:00am last Friday and rumors have surfaced that he has cheated on his wife.

For example, one reader participating in a Post online chat yesterday pointed out that the tag line for consulting firm Accenture is "Go on. Be a Tiger."

The chat centered on how the negative media attention and Woods' admission of "transgressions" would effect his endorsement deals. Jason Maloni, vice president and head of the Sports and Entertainment subpractice with Levick Strategic Communications, led the discussion.

Maloni's response: "All smart advertising folks are able to change messages in minutes and pull or adjust ad buys as needed. I expect you'll see some modifications in the coming days if this matter remains in the news."

So what might Accenture say now? "Go on. Be a Tiger. But only the one you see on the golf course."

I don't think so. No, the companies will continue to pimp Tiger as is.

The athlete himself is suggesting we should separate the Tiger at home from the Tiger on the golf course. He is outraged at the attention to his private life. In a statement, he said: "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."

He's right that we don't have a right to pry into his or anyone's personal life. But celebrities willingly put themselves out there for our entertainment and their financial enrichment. The truth is, Tiger could have just played golf and would have still been a multi-millionaire off his tournament winnings alone. Instead, he chose to leverage his celebrity status for even more money.

So, we talk about his situation because he put himself out there. I don't think we should pretend our interest is more highfaluting than that. It's not like we seriously assess Nike products based on Tiger's character.

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