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It Will Take Time for Tiger Woods to Recoup His Image

By Ed Sherman, Crain’s Chicago Business Sports Blog

Apr 6, 2010

Everyone is using Kobe Bryant as an example of an athlete who was able to rehabilitate his image and land endorsements in the wake of a scandal. They say if Kobe can do it, Tiger Woods can do it.

People, though, forget something important: It didn’t happen overnight. It took several years and much sustained success for Mr. Bryant to regain his status. Even then, his rape trial still remains part of his overall story.

Mr. Woods probably is facing the same path. And you could make the argument that it will be tougher for him because of the incredible damage incurred by his scandal.

Mr. Woods took a small step Monday by meeting with the media for the first time since his eventful Thanksgiving night. You have to wonder, if he had done the session much sooner, such as last December, whether it would have prevented the story from spinning out of control.

The decision to wait looks to be a crucial mistake. However, Mr. Woods said he wasn’t ready. I’m guessing he still was in cover-up mode back then.

Mr. Woods seemed prepared Monday. I asked for an assessment from the expert, Kevin Sullivan, former communications director for George Bush and one-time PR chief for NBC Sports and the Dallas Mavericks.

In an e-mail, Mr. Sullivan wrote:

“Tiger accomplished what he needed to. He displayed humility, opening up somewhat about his personal struggles while never exhibiting the touchy defensiveness we’re accustomed to from him. He satisfied the media by answering most — if not all — of their questions. He provided some new information regarding the accident and put to rest the issue of HGH and Dr. Galea.

“Only time will tell if he is sincere about making the changes he promised, but on Monday, Tiger did what was necessary to begin to put the scandal in the rear-view mirror and return the spotlight to his performance on the golf course.”

As somebody who has attended more than 100 of Mr. Woods’ press conferences, I was struck by how at ease he was. I thought he would be more defensive and less forthcoming. At times, it almost seemed like one of his pre-tournament media scrums.

Mr. Woods did seem eager to make amends. Reaching out to the fans, as he said he will do, should help. He even referred to some members of the media as “friends.” Talk about working the room.

I thought Mr. Woods was sincere in wanting to change the direction of his life. Plenty of other sports reporters, though, are skeptical.

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “He was, well, unbelievable.”

Christine Brennan of the USA Today wrote: “I want to believe him. But can I? Can any of us?

“There is an answer to that question, one we don’t often like to fall back on in journalism, but one we can’t help but use now:

“We don’t know.

“There is no way to know if the Tiger Woods we watched Monday is telling the truth, just as there was no way to determine how much he was lying all those years before. He lied to everyone then. Now he’s telling us he lied before but isn’t lying now. Let’s hope that’s true.”

The venue now shifts from the tabloids and talk shows to the golf course. Thursday, Mr. Woods returns to his stage.

If he wins again, will all be forgotten? Perhaps to some extent, but it will take time. A lot of time.

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