Some, like ESPN’s Gene Wojchiechowski, see it as a first step back from the incalculable damage-although I am sure some enterprising reporter has already tried to calculate the cost of Woods’ many affairs-he caused his family, friends, sponsors, parents who looked up to him, and, of course, himself.
Others, like Bill The Sports Guy Simmons, aren’t buying Woods’ performance, calling it robotic, contrived and controlled.
As many have noted, Woods is just the latest in an increasingly lengthening line of celebrities, politicians and other public figures who have come forward to atone for their private transgressions.
Whatever one thinks of Woods’ speech yesterday, a near unanimous consensus exists that Woods has irreversibly damaged his earlier, carefully cultivated reputation as someone with impeccable talent on the golf course and high integrity and sterling character off of it.
Woods has courted his status as a corporate icon from the very day he turned pro-an act that Nike announced that the famous “Hello, world” commercial that included strains of a capella voices mingling with messianic drums beating before the question, “Are you ready for me?” appeared and Nike’s Just Do It slogan appeared.
For the following dozen years he enhanced that status with each successive major victory and seemingly inexorable climb toward Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, with the foundation he created with his late father Earl, and with each additional brand he endorsed.
Woods is not the first sporting titan either to have assiduously cultivated a positive public face or to have later found that image battered through actions in his personal life.
Close friend Michael Jordan advanced his corporate-friendly and racially transcendent image starting in college, we learn in David Halberstam’s Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made.
Like Woods, Jordan kept mum about things political, refusing to endorse Harvey Gantt in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Jesse Helms in his native North Carolina-“Republicans buy sneakers, too,” he told Sam Smith-and not speaking out against worker abuses in Nike plants.
Sam Smith’s The Jordan Rules started to leak unflattering details about Jordan who once taunted a teammate playing in his hometown by displaying the dozens of tickets he had at his disposal and set about to destroy the confidence of teammates like Stacy King and Brad Sellers whose desire or toughness he questioned.
Michael Leahy’s account of Jordan’s final comeback advanced this storyline, portraying Jordan as an egocentric bully, while lawsuits and other stories brought out his infidelity and gambling, respectively.
And Jordan won himself little additional favor during his Hall of Fame induction speech, which many saw as displaying some of these same unappealing traits.
Before Woods and Jordan, though, there was Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper whose 56-game hitting streak has stood for close to 70 years and who was seen to embody grace, class, sportsmanship and humility.
Richard Ben Cramer’s The Hero’s Life shows DiMaggio striving to build his legend from very early in his career and showing in excruciating detail DiMaggio’s excessive ego and venality.
Time will tell whether Woods’ apology contributes to preserving what is left of his family life and if Jordan will come to a more humble and less competitive stance toward the world, but both would do well to take note of DiMaggio.
One of the more poignant section in Ben Cramer’s book comes toward the very end of DiMaggio’s life. The hospitalized legend is not surrounded by friends and family, but by avaricious adviser Morris Engelberg, who tries to coax nearly illegible signatures out of the dieing ballplayer.
It’s a chilling scene, and one that seems based in a lifetime of having lived to be admired, rather than in mutually intimate relationships.
For now, Woods returns to more therapy and an uncertain golf future.
We will watch the story with interest.