As a former athletic director at the college level, and a sports agent now for many years, I’ve been forced to deal with difficult situations that could involve negative publicity.
And I can tell you that Tiger Woods’ situation last weekend is a primer on how NOT to deal with the perils of negative publicity when it comes to a celebrity.
It took Woods two days to make any sort of public statement. When it did come, it was on his blog. And it was too little, too late, as the firestorm of speculation had already burned hot and bright. The problem these days is that if you don’t tell the story, someone else is going to dig until they find it — or make something up altogether.
And the speculation in these cases can become worse than reality.
The first stories of Woods’ early-morning traffic accident outside his Florida home last Friday made it sound as if he was seriously injured. There was genuine concern that he was not only hurt but that his golf career was in jeopardy.
As it turned out, Woods’ injuries appear to be minor and he was treated and soon released from a hospital near his Florida home. But it took until Sunday before golf’s greatest star addressed the issue on his website.
By then, the story had taken on a life of its own as all sorts of speculation appeared, trying to fill the void where no information from Woods was available.
Woods’ mistakes were twofold. This instance screamed for an almost immediate comment from Woods about his physical condition. It would have calmed the waters a lot if he’d just issued some sort of statement immediately about the extent of his injuries and how they would impact his golf career.
Second, in today’s world, as much as he’d like to keep all of this private, that’s going to be a very tough task. A celebrity’s life is an open book. Websites, magazines and television shows exist in some cases for the sole purpose of revealing details of the lives of famous people.
Ultimately, it may be smart for Tiger Woods to come forward with as much detail as he possibly can about the incident. If he did something stupid or embarrassing, the public will most likely forgive and forget. But hiding details only increases the public’s desire to know — and will increase scrutiny on Woods’ private life.
David Letterman provided a blueprint for dealing with embarrassing incidents in one’s personal life with his handling of an affair he had with one of his show’s interns. Letterman took time early in one of his programs and admitted the whole embarrassing affair. It was a difficult chore, I would guess, for a man with a wife and young child.
But by stepping forward, Letterman disarmed anyone interested in further details and probably diffused any chance of much further scrutiny. Just a few weeks later, you hardly hear anything about Letterman’s problems as the public’s thirst for dirt on celebrities — and the “news” outlets that feed it — have moved on.
And for now at least, they’ve moved on to Tiger Woods.