Hiding out isn’t helping Tiger’s image
Nine words I never thought I’d type: Why couldn’t Tiger be a
standup guy like Kobe?
On July 18, 2003, just hours after being charged with sexual
assault, Bryant held a news conference at the Staples Center, where
he declared his innocence of the charges while admitting his guilt
as a man.
“I sit here before you guys, furious at myself, disgusted at
myself,” he said. ” … embarrassed and ashamed for committing
Actually, his audience was comprised of more than mere
sportswriters and cameramen. His wife appeared at his side.
“You’re a piece of my heart,” he said. “You’re the air that I
breathe. And you’re the strongest person I know. And I’m so sorry
for having to put you through this, for having to put our family
These statements were accompanied by the requisite, if
Kobe-esque, expressions of remorse and gravity. He gritted his
teeth, pursed his lips and held back tears — all of which
subjected him to years of merciless, if somewhat deserved torment.
The air that I breathe? Who did this guy think he was
Did he buy her off?
Was he a rapist, a liar, or merely what he was copping to, a
spectacularly unsuccessful philanderer?
Here’s what’s known for sure: the charges were dropped, and
Bryant settled a civil suit out of court. There is no additional
suggestion that he’s ever been engaged in felonious conduct.
Rather, his greatest offense in the years since involves the serial
calling of radio stations. I’m also obligated to mention —
given the inevitable confusion between victory and virtue —
that he’s a far greater ballplayer, and infinitely more respected,
than he was six years ago.
This much is certain, too. Kobe Bryant put himself out there
to be judged. To say he declined to take questions ignores the
considerable risks he did take. Woe unto those who speak after
being read their rights. Bryant wasn’t fighting to preserve his
image so much as his freedom. Sure, he was protected by his lawyers
and by the Lakers. Still, he was willing to be seen, to be
lampooned, to let the people appraise him for themselves. For
everything that was awkward and mannered in his statement, you got
to see something of the real man.
Which brings me to Woods. I thought (or perhaps, hoped) that
his first admission (in his second statement, if memory serves) was
the beginning of something — if not a real guy, then a more
authentic image of one. I feel differently now, for what it’s
worth. If you’ve read his by-lined statements, you know he’s not to
First, four days after Thanksgiving, it was a “one-car”
accident that engendered “unfounded and malicious rumors.” Then he
copped to “transgressions.” Now, after nine mistresses have been
named, he releases a statement admitting to “infidelity” and saying
he’s taking an indefinite hiatus from golf.
You’re supposed to be thrilled about that, his recusal from
public life? He wasn’t in the soft drink business. Or the Buick
business. Or even the golf business. He was in the image business.
Both Woods and Bryant — each of whom turned pro with huge
endorsement deals in the summer of ’96 — were seen as heirs
to Michael Jordan.
But 12 years after Woods won his first major and more than
two weeks after this story broke, you’re still no closer to the
basis for his image. Now as then, you have no idea who the real man
is. He wants no part of the risk that Kobe Bryant took.
Think about it: every piece of property this guy owns, and
many he does not, are being staked out around the clock. But
there’s been no Tiger sighting. Strange, right?
Perhaps the events of early Nov. 27 left him with a dental
profile like that of Leon Spinks. But everything I know about the
economics of stardom and the craft of damage control leads me to
believe he’s in rehab. Not for sex, of course. That would do
irreparable harm to his cause in commerce. No, I’d bet he’s in for
Ambien and Vicodin, which, for all I know, he might have begun
abusing when his knee came apart.
Maybe it’s true. Or maybe it’s a device to salvage the
remnants of a heroic narrative.
In the meantime, Tiger Woods would do well to realize how the
rules have changed. He was still trying to Be Like Mike, when he
should’ve been like Kobe.