Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Win ... or Else

Tiger Woods played a practice round at the Masters Monday, then met with the media in his first uncontrolled interview since his world unraveled last November. Whether this was general contrition or simply more media management is anybody's guess, but Tiger seemed surprisingly open, refusing to answer only one two questions as "personal." (If you were keeping score, the final tally was 35 non-golf/personal questions and 9 golf questions). He even posted a transcript of the entire event on his own website.

The most interesting question came from someone who asked if Tiger was surprised at the media attention. Woods's answer:

Well, I was surprised at the mainstream media. I think it's also the times have changed, as well. With 24-hour news, you're looking for any kind of news to get out there. I know a lot of my friends are in here, and I haven't seen them, I haven't talked to them, but I've read their articles, and of course they have been critical of me. They should, because what I have done was wrong. But then again, I know a lot of them -- I know a lot of you in here are my friends and will always be my friends.

That shows an amazing amount of naivete for someone who has controlled and manipulated the sports media his entire career. It's not like the tabloid media suddenly popped up when Tiger started winning tournaments. Add to that the fact that Woods has aggressively marketed himself as a global sports icon, and it puts him squarely in the center of the sports media bullseye.

His statement also raises the long-standing issue of the relationship between sports writers and athletes. Woods' statement is true in that he did deserve the criticism, but if you read between the lines he seems to be feeling a bit betrayed by some of his media friends. Woods apparently cultivated some friendly relationships with golf writers (such as with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi and the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman, to whom he gave his exclusive interviews last month), and it seems as if he expected a few favors in return regarding coverage of the affair(s).
Instead, the media laid him bare and turned the world's most powerful sports icon into a frail, flawed figure. For the time being, Woods is a freak show; someone you would buy tickets for to see in the circus. (And people will buy the tickets; expect the Masters ratings this weekend to be through the roof). The only way the emperor gets his clothes back is to win the tournament. If Woods does that, after all he's gone through, the sports media will fall over each other to fawn over him, and he will almost instantly regain his power and prestige. The questions will shift away from his personal life and focus instead on his comeback. But a poor performance means a little more time in the media big top.

In many ways, this is the most important week of Woods's professional life.


Blogger Unknown said...

Excellent post. It's clear that Tiger did expect some favors from a number of golf writers, but major props to them for being brave enough to stick to their guns and do their job the right way.

Someone that has disappointed me in all of this is ESPN's Rick Reilly. And I hate to say that because Reilly is one of the main reasons I wanted to be a sports journalist. But from the end of Tiger's ridiculous press conference without questions, Reilly has been nothing but complimentary of Tiger. He's kept writing about how Tiger can fix his image (and thus regain power?) and how he has suffered enough and everyone should just move on.

I get it. They are pals. But Reilly is a journalist. He is letting his relationship with Woods dictate his writing. At what point do you take the leap and criticize a friend at the risk of damaging future relations?

It seems Reilly is doing all he can to maintain his "in" with Tiger so that if Woods returns to power, he'll still be able to write his fluffy Tiger pieces.

5:29 PM  

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