The Tiger Woods incident provides an interesting glimpse into the world of celebrity image making, and the corporate and media interests that enable it. Woods got into a minor car accident early Friday morning after he was apparently attacked by his enraged wife. She seems to have smashed in the back window of his SUV with a couple of golf clubs as he tried to flee their home at 2:30 AM. Woods was found lying in the street drifting in and out of consciousness and suffering from facial lacerations, raising questions regarding whether the window was the only thing his wife connected with. Woods is refusing to talk to the police, which isn’t surprising, given that a truthful account of the proceedings would probably require his wife to be charged with committing domestic violence.
He did however release this statement on his website, which is a kind of negative masterpiece of botched public relations.
Absurdly, Woods is issuing a fulsome apology to the world in general, while at the same time claiming all that happened is that he got into a fender bender just beyond his driveway. Even more ineptly, he addresses the “many false, malicious and unfounded rumors that are circulating” about him. By doing so, he’s practically requiring the mainstream media to report on, and ask him about, a National Enquirer story claiming that he is having an affair — a story that to this point the more respectable media have refused to even mention, let alone question him about.
The most ridiculous feature of the statement is his whining plea for “privacy.” Tiger Woods has become a billionaire by marketing himself so assidiously that he’s now the most recognizable athlete, and indeed one of the most recognizable people, in the world. His vast wealth (less than 10% of which has been earned directly through his athletic achievements) is a product of making himself into a kind of human logo, that corporations pay him immense amounts to attach to their products. They find it profitable to do so because of the preposterous yet very widespread idea that athletic excellence somehow reflects well on a person’s character and general value as a human being. Tiger Woods alleged adultery has nothing to do with his ability to excel on the golf course, but has everything to do with his ability to market himself as some kind of exemplary person, whose putative preferences in regard to cars and accounting firms and watches should influence your view of these products, and the corporations that produce them.
On one level I do feel sorry for Woods, in that his father was a certifiable lunatic, whose ambitions in regard to his son went far beyond turning him into the greatest golfer in the world. Consider this quote from Earl Woods, from a 1996 Sports Illustrated profile, written when Woods was all of 21 years old, and had yet to win a major golf tournament, let alone transform the course of human history:
Tiger will win because of God’s mind. Can’t you see the pattern? Earl Woods asks. Can’t you see the signs? “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” Earl says.
Sports history, Mr. Woods? Do you mean more than Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, more than Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe? “More than any of them because he’s more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone.”
Anyone, Mr. Woods? Your son will have more impact than Nelson Mandela, more than Gandhi, more than Buddha?
“Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them. Because he’s playing a sport that’s international. Because he’s qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles. He’s the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don’t know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power.”
The craziest part of all this is that Eldrick “Tiger” Woods probably on some level believes it — and very little in his life experience within a media-saturated and celebrity-crazed culture has contradicted this belief.