Following the Tiger Trail: The Public Trial of Tiger Woods
by Brandeise Monk-Payton — Brown University
May 19, 2010 – 00:40
Over the past few months, the Tiger Woods sex scandal has reached new heights of media frenzy in the amount of public scrutiny surrounding the famous golfer’s private life. Perhaps the definitive gesture in Woods’ redemption narrative is his current Nike advertisement. Released in April, the 30-second black and white commercial features a solemn Tiger directly addressing the camera and utilizes a voice recording of his deceased father, Earl Woods, that is de-contextualized to represent commentary on his son’s current predicament. Earl Woods as a figure in Tiger’s life (both as father and professional mentor) seem to haunt the golfer in this Nike spot, which reads as an inner monologue providing the element of reflection necessary to redeem his image.
The commercial is only one component of Woods’ public atonement. Since the sex scandal’s inception, the golfer has navigated the intense media spotlight in ways that have seemed to go above and beyond the call of duty of effective celebrity crisis management. After reports of his infidelity first surfaced, Tiger and his team of minders were silent, allowing the news media to run wild with speculation about his personal issues. Woods then issued an ambiguous statement of apology on his website that speaks to the vociferous nature of tabloid media scrutiny and the need for privacy during these difficult times in his life. Though he comments that “Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions,” the barrage of information that surfaced concerning his sexual exploits seemed to deem it necessary for him to make such a public admission of guilt. On February 19th, Woods gave a televised 14-minute scripted speech in which he apologized for his behavior. Though the speech was directed to those closest to him, the nature of the public platform made it available to an audience of millions worldwide as they tuned into the event via CNN, TMZ, and other news media outlets.
The sheer spectacle of such a public disclosure of domestic transgression is interesting and speaks to the desire to witness image desecration in an open forum. Here, written words were not enough. The visual presentation of Tiger’s fall from grace in some way rendered his plight more palatable. In those brief moments, the pristine and always closely managed golfer was recognized as flesh and not as an otherworldly sports figure.
Tiger returned to golf in April amidst much buzz—now that the sports star had atoned for his sins publically, gone to therapy/rehab, and witnessed his image overhaul, would he still be able to redeem himself on the golf course? While this is yet to be fully answered, Nike saw fit to release its commercial introducing a brand new Tiger. This Tiger seems to be acutely aware of the discursive spaces that construct his public image. The hint of flashing lights bouncing off of Tiger’s face at the commercial’s end suggests that ultimately Tiger is not a victim of his own individual infractions, but rather a victim of the media and the power that comes with fame. And ultimately in the end, perhaps Tiger’s silence says it all.