Sports

Tiger Woods Takes The Worst Possible Route To Redemption

Tiger Woods practices golf at home on February 18, 2010.

Tiger Woods was practicing golf on Thursday, but he'll be trying to practice damage control on Friday. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Tiger Woods is holding the most unnecessary press conference in history today at 11:00 a.m. Well — no, it's not a press conference. He's getting together in a room with friends and associates, and he's reading a statement to them, with a gaggle of reporters listening in from a nearby room. He's going to apologize, says his agent, and talk about his plans for the future. He will not take questions. But it's very public, to say the least. You can even watch it on Hulu.

If there is a more cynical way to make a purported apology to absolutely everyone except the primary person to whom the apology is owed (that would be, since we are talking about accusations of serial infidelity, his wife), it would take a while to come up with it. And unfortunately, no matter what Tiger Woods says at this carefully staged event, it will make no difference to anyone.

It will not be good news when he says any of the following.

"Good morning."

Woods' first no-win maneuver is showing up at all. If you're among those who consider his reported behavior grotesque and offensive, the last thing you want when it's been mostly out of the news for the last few weeks is for it to come back, right in the middle of the Olympics (when sports reporters have better things to do). People in this camp have no interest in an apology.

If, on the other hand, you like Tiger Woods as a golfer and think his personal life is none of anybody's business, you're still likely to think the press conference is the wrong move. The opposite of being offended by the private behavior of celebrities is generally not being eager for therapeutic apologies about the private behavior of celebrities, but is instead wanting to hear absolutely nothing about it, on the theory that it has nothing to do with you and nothing to do with golf, which is the only reason Tiger Woods is important in the first place. People in this camp don't want an apology either.

The rest of the doomed strategy, after the jump.

"I apologize for my private transgressions."

Unless his wife is there, this would be an apology for damage done to his marriage issued to people who aren't part of it. The only thing worse would be if she actually were present, so that everyone could poach in their profound discomfort at seeing a private episode of groveling transformed into a semi-public episode of groveling.

"I apologize for the secondary effects of my behavior on everyone else."

When you're as famous as Tiger Woods, you're an entire business. And when you get yourself embroiled in a scandal — or a series of them, really — you do affect other people. But again, those apologies should be in private. Delivering them in public accomplishes nothing except making it appear that, having caused problems for all your associates, you would now like to use your request that they forgive you as a further way to score points with your fans.

"I have done additional bad things you don't need to know about that I will now describe."

It's always possible that Woods is holding this event because he has something else to disclose about his personal life that's about to come out anyway, and he's decided to announce it in advance. (There's no indication this is the case, but whenever a press conference seems to be happening for no good reason, it's natural to account for the possibility of new information.)

There's not a lot he could announce, though, that would be big enough to make detractors dislike him any more than they already do, but small enough that confessing to it will help. There's already been such a parade of apparent personal missteps that more of them won't really matter. And if it's something worse than personal business related mostly to his marriage, then no amount of getting out ahead of it will help.

"Let me announce my plans regarding golf."

The best thing Tiger Woods can do for himself is to shut up and play golf, a lot, as soon as possible, and do well. Perhaps it means we're all a nation of cheap dates, but the fact is that people are very forgiving if you are good at what you do. They remember why they liked watching you in the first place, and they remember that it wasn't because you were necessarily a very nice person.

But if this is about announcing his plans regarding golf, there's no reason for the "I am gathering my friends and supporters" plan, which suggests a therapeutic confession, nor for the way he's walling himself off from questions from journalists. So if he does talk about golf, then blending golf with this Retreat To Discuss Feelings or whatever misty-eyed event his handlers are creating will seem manipulative and tacky, like leveraging his own bad behavior in order to drum up interest in his return to tournament play.

"Thank you, that will be all."

What makes this an "event" of some sort and not a press conference is asking for press coverage but taking no questions. It is on this basis that the Golf Writers Association is boycotting the show. Being contrite is probably appropriate, but being accountable is different, and means doing uncomfortable things like letting people ask you questions and, if you don't want to answer some of them, just saying you're not going to answer them, instead of making sure you're in a different room from anyone who might ask them.

In the end, either there is some public entitlement to information about Woods' personal life or there is not. If he takes the position that there is not, then this is the time to put his head down and be quiet until he is ready to play golf. If there is, then eventually, he's going to have to cede some control over the discussion.

The route he's taking is the worst possible compromise: It transforms his private life into a matter of public concern and then handles it in a way that would not be adequate to address any actual matter of public concern.

He's already apologized in statements on his web site. He's done it more than once. He said "profound apology" on December 4th of last year and "profoundly sorry" on December 11th. That's as profound as he's going to convince anyone his apologies actually are, and what he needs at this point is to play golf.

Time heals all wounds; this will heal none.

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