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Choosing Tiger Woods’ New Image

21 February 2010

Tiger Woods finally appeared last Friday to read a prepared statement.  In the formal apology, he confessed his “irresponsible and selfish behavior,” especially his affairs.  He had felt “entitled” to various “temptations,” but now Woods claimed that he has come to realize that he doesn’t “get to play by different rules.”

So true.   Tiger will no longer have the luxury of getting to carve his own path through the athletic world any more.  He’ll need to slip into one of the more tried and true paths for male celebrity athletes.  Let me start with three more conventional types.

Mr. Ferocious.  Tiger has never had a golden relationship with the media, and getting thrown under the bus by them since November hasn’t helped.  He could try to conjure up all that competitive rage and market it, much like he did on the recent cover of Vanity Fair.  Woods knows how to throw himself into golf.  He knows how to issue the icy glare.  Now simply make an industry out of it, like Barry Bonds or Ty Cobb.  A lot of us have hated to love Tiger; now make us love to hate you.

Mr. Damaged.  Woods spent a total of 45 days in rehab for undisclosed issues, though those certainly include sexual addiction.  Enough celebrities have gone through that process to add him to the long line of the self-abused.  He could come out from this as someone who, always a little red-eyed, has that look of “I know what hell is like, man, I’ve been there.”  John Mayer has taken this tormented path, however unconvincingly.  But Woods actually has reason to bemoan his own estate.  Most of his big contracts are history.  Elin appears ready to ditch him.  He has mortified his own flesh since this incident, and has even thrown in a little bit of martyr (“I just want to keep my private life private”) and family coverer (“[Elin] never hit me that night or any other night”).  Playing the sufferer won’t get him back the big contracts, but it seems to play out of Wood’s strengths. 

Mr. Upstanding.  I’m not talking about an untouchable image – that was the very thing that got him into trouble in the first place.  I’m talking about becoming the warm and amiable figures so abundant on the PGA tour in the first place.  Become a gentleman.  A back-slapping country club member.  The neighbor who lends you his mower.  This has been the bread and butter mold for everyone from Brett Favre to Jack Nicklaus.  People like to be around you.  Unfortunately, Tiger has been a recluse for so long, relatively uninterested in others.

That said, Woods has hinted at one other possibility which would be rather unconventional coming from his particular situation.  On to a novel #4…

Mr. Religious.  This one can be tricky, as most religious figures tend to be the A.C. Greens and the Tim Tebows of the sporting world, those who haven’t fallen from grace.  But Tiger might have enough notoriety to become the exception, to become the redeemed sinner – Buddhist style.  In a daring move, Woods told the press, “Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years.  Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security.  It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.”  Spirituality would restore some countering “balance” to his professional life, claimed Woods.  We do not yet have any outspoken, restored Buddhists on the golf course.  Yet.

Take your pick, Tiger, and step up to the tee.

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