To say things aren’t going well for Tiger Woods at the moment is an understatement, and yet he has to know deep down that it’s going to work out in the long run. And let’s face it, you and I know the same exact thing.
The latest blow to the golf deity is sports beverage powerhouse Gatorade’s decision to cut ties with him entirely. Until November, the two were so interwoven that there existed “Gatorade Tiger,” a special design that claimed to somehow cram even more electrolytes than their regular formula into the drink. I still have a few bottles lying around since Costco used to carry it for cheap. I’m unaware as to whether it boosts my athletic potency, but the purple flavor does taste pretty good.
This comes on the heels of the previous corporate sponsors to cut ties with Tiger, Accenture and AT&T. Nike and Gillette remain on board, though they’re obviously not using him in ads at the moment.
The thing is, provided someone’s still good at his sport, there are very few transgressions an athlete can perpetuate to get to the point that he can’t bounce back. Though we look down our noses at Tiger’s rampant streak of adultery – as well we should – it simply doesn’t strike me as anything he can’t recover from.
The same thing will apply to Kanye West. Everyone hates him now for harassing that little country singer, but I guarantee when he drops his next CD, and it’s terrific, you’ll hear that coming out of everyone’s car systems.
Remember: The media and public love to build people up. Then they love to tear those same people down.
But I think what they love the most and make the most money off is when they create the opportunity to build them back up again.
And there’s a long line of precedents for Tiger (and ‘Ye) to base a comeback on, demonstrating that second chances are not just possible, but commonplace. Witness:
Americans love dogs, right? Of course we do, for the most part. But even though Michael Vick killed a bunch of dogs in heartless and heartbreaking fashion, after a few years he was back out of the bing and playing football. After the requisite initial tongue-wagging and hand-wringing, we honestly barely even remember he’s around.
I’d say the only thing preventing Vick from reclaiming his position in the pantheon of big-time sports celebrity is that he’s not as good a player as he was before his two years of paid debt to society. But he’s still cashing those checks. And make no mistake: Atlanta sports fans still adore the guy. After all, he learned a grave lesson, I guess. He even does anti-dogfighting events now, presumably to educate the public or something, and to boost his earning power. And he did win that playoff game that time.
Alex Rodriguez has a laundry list of black eyes to his credit. There was the “Curse of the Bimbinos” (see left) that broke up his storybook marriage, his trusty agent opting him out of his Yankees contract in the middle of a World Series game, and of course, his crazy cousin forcing him to take steroids. Not to mention, he just happened to be an unlikable diva.
But A-Rod overcame his tragic addiction to performance-enhancing drugs and Canadian strippers, hitting 30 home runs with 100 RBIs, dating relatively wholesome Kate Hudson for a while and for the most part, staying out of the tabloids. Most importantly, the Yankees won a World Series, disproving the prevailing idea that you couldn’t win a championship with Rodriguez involved.
I get the feeling that most Yankees fans still don’t really like A-Rod – and he was, of course, named the Least Coolest Athlete of the Decade by this very site. But he’s oblivious to all that, and it’s near impossible to still call him a loser – at least in a literal sense.
The most significant example is the tale of Kobe Bryant. Kobe was vilified six years ago when he was accused of rape by a woman who worked in some resort hotel in Vail. Even if the rape allegations were never proven to be explicitly true (they ended up settling a civil case after criminal charges were dropped), Kobe was obviously cheating on his wife regardless.
Nas subsequently ethered him in brilliant fashion as he is known to do. On top of that indignity, Bryant lost nearly all his sponsors, most notably McDonald’s. (Note that though the Golden Arches had moral discrepancies with Kobe, they have no problem giving half of America heart disease with their horrible cuisine) Even Nutella dropped him, though the big surprise there was that he actually endorsed them in the first place.
The big one that stuck with him was Nike, though they stopped featuring him in ads until the situation died down. When that happened, Kobe went out and began dominating, scoring 82 points in games and winning titles. He bought his wife a $4 million ring (how is a ring that valuable even possible?) and smoothed everything over in that regard. And Nike picked right back up with a national marketing campaign for him, most recently featuring him in puppet form. He’s now on his fifth signature sneaker.
And though I still don’t like Kobe – I honestly never have, even before the rape case – I’m copping these stone-cold Duke joints right here on March 13, believe that.
There are, of course, too many of these examples to name them all specifically. I mean, Ray Lewis basically killed someone, and that was never a big deal – he was back on video game covers and shoe advertisements in no time at all.
And it’s not just athletes. Bill Clinton performed such a focused, precise brand of adultery that he was impeached, and yet he came out of it a lovable caricature. Eliot Spitzer was a spectacular failure as a husband (and a lousy governor, for that matter), and as recently as a few weeks ago, I heard talk that there was a faction that wanted him to run for Senate.
Of course, Clinton for one has something that Tiger doesn’t – charisma and a modicum of likeability. Just look at Tiger’s pathetic, scripted apology to the media. But he’s presumably still got all that natural talent, and he’s got a bigger buzz now than back when that was all he had. Not to mention, as I said, there’s very little an athlete can do that he won’t be forgiven for, and I don’t believe Tiger crossed that line.
You think his gallery was huge before? Imagine that first tournament when he’s back, it’ll be four times the size. Suddenly, he’s not just the best guy in his sport, but the most notorious in any sport. You’ll have TMZ right there next to SI. The demographic will change – for example, I’ll certainly be watching, and I’ve seen parts of maybe three golf tournaments in my life.
When Tiger starts winning events again – which he will, because he’s got nothing better to do – he’ll suddenly have found his redemption. Tiger will have seen the light! Once he conquers the demons of sex addiction, golf will push him as hard as humanly possible because he’s like 85% of the sport.
And Nike – who stayed in the background with Tiger the way they did with Kobe – will be positioned to get right back in the game. He’s their cash cow for a whole sport; they aren’t going anywhere. And Tiger 2.0 will be in full effect. Accenture and AT&T may be gone. But Deloitte and Verizon are waiting downstairs like the Knicks for LeBron.
Tiger will be just fine.