Rubbernecking public fuels Tiger’s Nike-orchestrated reascent

Never alone The only surprising thing about Tiger Woods’ overnight resurgence into the living rooms of mainstream America is that anybody could possibly be surprised it happened that fast.

It took about half of one round of the first tournament he played in to get there, which shows that in this day and age, we really don’t care how horrible a person someone is as long as we can watch it all play out. But didn’t we know that already?

The whole thing’s just a trumped-up reality show. And you know how America feels about reality television – we can’t get enough of that nonsense.

Here’s what I wrote about Tiger about a month ago:

You think his gallery was huge before? Imagine that first tournament when he’s back, it’ll be four times the size. Suddenly, he’s not just the best guy in his sport, but the most notorious in any sport. You’ll have TMZ right there next to SI. The demographic will change – for example, I’ll certainly be watching, and I’ve seen parts of maybe three golf tournaments in my life.

When Tiger starts winning events again – which he will, because he’s got nothing better to do – he’ll suddenly have found his redemption. Tiger will have seen the light! Once he conquers the demons of sex addiction, golf will push him as hard as humanly possible because he’s like 85% of the sport.

And Nike – who stayed in the background with Tiger the way they did with Kobe – will be positioned to get right back in the game. He’s their cash cow for a whole sport; they aren’t going anywhere. And Tiger 2.0 will be in full effect.

I was wrong about one thing – I didn’t watch any of the Masters. I mean, it’s still golf.

Regardless, not only did Tiger not appear to lose very much in the way of skill – he posted his best Masters first round ever – he also appears far less tightly wound than he used to be, smiling incessantly and joking with the media. It’s almost as if an enormous weight had lifted off his shoulders with his once-secret life now out in the open. I would also imagine his PR people told him to make an effort to be somewhat personable for the first time ever.

I was initially somewhat surprised to see Nike jump back on board so soon, tactlessly spitting out that bizarre ad using Tiger’s deceased father’s ghostly, disembodied voice. I would have thought Nike would play it the way they did with Kobe – stay in the background, watch how it all plays out, and then start peddling Tiger when he’s awesome again.

But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Nike knows the public and the media are completely malleable, and the Swoosh didn’t want people considering Tiger as a human being a single minute longer than they had to. Nike isn’t in the business of having us know about their athletes. They didn’t want us knowing Tiger back when he was boring, and they don’t want us knowing him now that he’s wretched. The more we know, the more there is that we won’t like. As such, they wanted to excise Tiger the human and return the icon and athlete posthaste.

Suddenly, nobody was talking about how terrible Tiger the adulterer is, but rather analyzing Tiger the ghoulish corporate pitchman. And that has to be considered a step up.

Meanwhile, the Masters had its highest rating in nine years, and I’m surprised it wasn’t even longer than that.

Sidebar: I have a Nike poster framed on my wall of Michael Jordan listing all the times he’s fallen short in his career, and at the end it has the slogan, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

I like the poster and the ad it spawned from, but those aren’t his words. They came from some corporate board room. If we’ve learned anything about Jordan over the years – and we’ve learned plenty – it’s that there isn’t a profound bone in his body. Well, that, and that he’s lousy at evaluating basketball players, he’s addicted to gambling and many other vices, he was a terrible husband and he’s a bitter, vindictive person.

Of course, back when he was a player, millions around the world looked up to the image that was so carefully cultivated by Nike, Gatorade and his other enablers.

Is it any wonder there’s a common notion that Jordan supposedly ruined Tiger?

Along those lines, we know how hard Tiger’s aforementioned father pushed him from the start to be the best ever, and that it probably made him the socially inept android he became. A GQ Magazine article revealed his off-color – and terribly unfunny – sense of humor back in 1997, and immediately thereafter, Nike scrubbed his image clean. He was red shirts and fist pumps, Gatorade and multi-ethnicity. “I am Tiger Woods,” some Madison Avenue genius concocted.

Note the catcher from The Sandlot at 0:28

We didn’t see the real Tiger again until the least erotic sex text messages of all time leaked on the Internet. (For instance: “I would love to have the ability to make you sore” – could he be more inartistic?)

Of course, we actually like this version of Tiger, and of other public figures when this sort of thing happens, because they make us feel better about ourselves. Certainly none of us are perfect, but we never claimed to be, and we’re not even close to as imperfect as the people who do make that claim through their respective corporate mouthpieces.

In addition, we actually find Tiger titillating in a vicarious sense. Through all the exaggerated tongue-clicking and eyebrow-raising, we’re all bloodthirsty for information on his travails. I think it’s along the same lines of whatever principle leads women to chase after “bad boys,” or whatever you’d call them. Suddenly Tiger is interesting, when he never was before. Bill Clinton had that same magnetism back in the day, despite the fact that he was morally bereft, utilized horrendous foreign policy, and subsisted on a cheeseburger and milkshake diet.

So it doesn’t matter that Tiger didn’t actually win the Masters, finishing fourth behind consummate family man Phil Mickelson. I bet the majority of Dancing With The Stars America actually has no clue who Mickelson even is. But they know Tiger played, and played well. And they know that they’re going to tune in again when he attempts – and probably succeeds – to win his next tournament.

In Natural Born Killers, Woody Harrelson’s character said:

The media is like the weather, only it’s man-made weather.

The media is a willing accomplice, but it’s Nike and its ilk that dictate the career path and the climate around an otherwise rudderless Tiger.

And with the help of a public all too willing to enrich their own lives, so to speak, by feasting on the flaws of public figures they don’t really know, Tiger’s well on his way to dominating the world again – albeit in a completely perverse manner.



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