Tiger Woods’ five-paragraph statement released on his Web site Wednesday is the only direct communication he has made publicly about the storm of controversy surrounding allegations of extra-marital activities.
Within 24 hours of the statement’s release, there were strong reactions among columnists, radio sports-talk hosts and TV personalities.
Everyone who reads the statement has a unique personal reaction.
The impressions made are important to the shaping of Woods’ image as he emerges from the controversy, according to two crisis management specialists who shared their reactions to Woods’ statement with GolfChannel.com.
“It was an exceptionally well-written statement, the problem with it is that he has now written two statements on his Web site, but he hasn’t come forward himself,” said Michael Gordon, CEO of Group Gordon Strategic Communications. “It makes it look like he’s hiding something, whether he intends that or not. He looks like he’s hiding something by releasing statements only on his Web site. Sooner or later, he will absolutely, 100 percent, have to face reporters’ questions on this subject. The sooner he does this, the better for him.
“Assuming there is nothing more significant coming out, he’ll be able to get through this,” said Gordon, who served in President Bill Clinton’s administration as spokesman for Attorney General Janet Reno. “Currently, avoiding reporters’ questions is hurting him.”
Jason Maloni, vice president of the sports and entertainment subpractice at Levick Strategic Communications, believes Woods’ message would have been more effective coming from Woods’ lips.
“It was appropriate to see an admission of transgression, but I don’t think the statement goes far enough,” Maloni said. “We have the expression `phoning it in’ and `mailing it in’ and now apparently Tiger is trying to `e-mail it in.’ You can’t e-mail in accountability.”
Though viewers can be skeptical of the sincerity of staged repentance, Maloni said there is nothing more effective than a public appearance in communicating your message to the audience you most want to reach.
“Were I advising him, at some point, not today or tomorrow, because there is time a family needs, but both he and his wife should be side by side on a couch somewhere in their home, holding hands, where the world can see them,” Maloni said. “They should be together where we can hear her say, `I am aware what has happened, Tiger loves me, I love him, we’ve had some difficulty in our marriage, as many marriages do, but we are committed to one another and we are working through it.'
“That might seem intrusive into their relationship, but it might be what it takes. We don’t need to know all the grisly details. He doesn’t need to come out with a laundry list of things he maybe has done as a married man. Only the worst fans want all the details, but what you do want is he and his wife articulating their relationship, expressing their commitment to one another.”
For Woods, who so fiercely guards his privacy, that’s a scene his fans have difficulty imagining. Why does Maloni believe it is important?
“He needs to be mindful that this will continue to be out there, not until he says it’s over, but until his fans feel like they’ve gotten the straight answers,” Maloni said. “That means hearing someone other than Tiger, namely his wife, say something. It will be a pivotal moment in what could be a one-week story or a very damaging one-month story.”
Why is going public at all important?
“He is a public figure,” Maloni said. “He engages fans, even to the small degree that he does so, and he needs to do more than he’s done.”
Gordon also said it’s important there is more than a written statement.
“He needs to put a human face with it, say the words in the statement to a reporter or group of reporters,” Gordon said. “Show some contrition and then just look forward. Assuming no significant revelations beyond that, he’ll be fine, but every day he doesn’t do that is a lost opportunity.”
Woods devoted so much of his statement to his right to privacy. He specifically wrote “personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions.” What’s he risk if he doesn’t go beyond his statement.
“It will look like he’s hiding something, and that will create questions among the media and the fans and in turn among his sponsors,” Gordon said. “That’s the exact flow chart. Media, fans, sponsors. Sponsors only care about people who buy their products. If he starts to lose credibility among them, the sponsors will care. Right now, the sponsors are holding firm, and they should. But if he tries to avoid the subject, it will continue to create questions rather than answer them.”
Woods’ addressed his right to privacy in three of the five paragraphs of his statement. How did that come off?
“There are certain things he just can’t say, or he will not have any credibility saying, at this time,” Maloni said. “He’s certainly not going to have a lot of credibility screaming for his privacy, at this time.”
How at odds is Woods’ determination to protect his privacy with what may be required to distant himself from the controversy?
“When you combine his high profile and his pristine image and the wackiness of the accident, it just creates a ton of questions,” Gordon said. “So he is not going to have the privacy he wants at the end of the day on this subject he wants.”