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AUGUSTA, Ga. – The interview room at Augusta National Golf Club contains 217 chairs, each of them sure to be filled Monday at 2 p.m. ET when Tiger Woods sits through his first no holds barred post-scandal press conference.
Like everything with Tiger Woods though, his responses almost assuredly will be rehearsed.
Tiger’s goal Monday will be to turn a pack of media from foes into foils, allowing Woods to elicit sympathy from core fans as he begins to rebuild his popularity. Thursday he will then return to play at the Masters, reminding people why they liked him in the first place – his talent.
Already a sizeable portion of golf fans will enthusiastically support his return. The cheating doesn't matter. They just want to see him play golf. Win the press conference and that number grows.
Tiger knows this. There’s a reason he is surrounded by public relations folks, image consultants and strategic development executives. He even briefly hired Ari Fleischer, a former White House spokesman who now deals with disgraced and desperate sports entities such as Mark McGwire and the Bowl Championship Series.
Tiger will want to project an image of a victim having to sit in front of a self-righteous room of media – 217 against one. If he can do that, the backlash will swing from him and onto the prying press. This is crisis management 101. It always works.
In my opinion, Tiger Woods owes apologies and explanations for his personal conduct to only three groups of people.
1. His wife and children.
2. His mother for using her as a humiliated stage prop at his February public remarks.
3. The housekeeping crew at the Hyatt Lodge in Oak Brook, Illinois; at least if the acts that porn star Joslyn James says occurred in room 358 actually did.
Other than that, most of this scandal is of a private nature; sex life and marital-counseling stuff. For all the sensational stories, late-night comedy fare and general entertainment the scandal has provided the world Woods doesn’t owe the public or the media anything.
He’s a golfer, not a politician or religious figure. Elin can grill him on that stuff. Not a bunch of reporters. While he portrayed himself as the perfect family man for endorsement purposes, the blame there also falls on anyone who is still naïve enough to believe a celebrity.
The people who are demanding precise answers to intimate details in their search for a pound of flesh are never going to be Tiger Woods fans again. His abuse of his family is just too much. No amount of media prodding can satiate their anger. Woods won’t bother trying to reach out to them. He’ll concentrate on regaining more sympathetic fans if the media asks the kind of questions the angry ex-fans want.
Monday isn’t a press conference; it’s a cat and mouse game, and Tiger has a ton of high-priced professionals employed to make sure he wins it. My prediction is he will; however, it only takes one awkward question replayed often to change the tone of the day.
This isn’t to say there aren’t legitimate questions Woods can be asked. Not everything that’s happened or been revealed is personal. Other subjects have been opened up by Woods and become fair game. Here’s some of what Woods should expect the following lines of questions and be prepared to answer.
1. What’s his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, the Toronto-based doctor facing investigations in both Canada and the United States for “possibly providing performance-enhancing drugs” to athletes? One of Galea’s assistants was caught at the border with both human growth hormone and the illegal Actovegin, a drug taken from calf’s blood, in his car.
The New York Times reported that Galea visited Woods in Florida four times in the winter of 2009 to “provide platelet-rich plasma therapy” for his then-injured knee.
In February, Woods made a blanket assertion that he’s never used performance-enhancing drugs but he’s not been specifically questioned on his deal with Galea or the circumstances surrounding their meeting. Woods could’ve called in any doctor in America. Are we to believe it’s just a coincidence he went with a controversial Canadian?
2. What really happened the night of the accident?
Once the police were called to his improbable single car wreck in the early morning hours on the day after Thanksgiving, this became public news. The crash never made sense; Woods needed to be driving at a fairly high rate for just leaving his driveway and the trajectory of his turn (a hard 120 degrees, not a lazy 60 degrees) is rare. Generally you only overturn when you are dodging something.
Woods refused to provide details to ESPN in a five-minute interview last month, saying all the information was in the police report. Actually, it’s not.
Why was Woods barefoot? Where was he going? If Elin Woods indeed needed to use a golf club to smash in a window and unlock to doors to get Tiger out, why did she smash in two windows? What does he think of the ambulance crew not allowing Elin to ride in the hospital with Tiger because they suspected spousal abuse? Did he get additional medical treatment – i.e. plastic surgery – to repair injuries?
Woods will certainly deflect this question away. It doesn’t mean it’s not legit to ask.
3. Do you believe your focus on cocktail waitresses has cost you in your golf career? Namely, did it take your energy and commitment away from winning major championships? Or did you need that to, for lack of a better phrase, relieve the pressure.
Woods is probably the greatest golfer to ever live and his 14 majors trail only Jack Nicklaus’ 18. Obviously Tiger was capable of dominating on the course during the day and conducting a wild double life at night. Could he have been better though? Did he leave a major or three or five in one of those VIP rooms? How good would Tiger have been if he actually acted like the myth said he did – focused solely on family and fitness?
And considering how much he covets Nicklaus’ record, does he regret potentially missing those chances?
4. If you want the public to believe you’re serious about changing your life, why are so many of your enablers still around?
This is again a subject Woods has made public in an effort to gain forgiveness and understanding. It wouldn’t bother me if Tiger had come out post-scandal and said this is my life and I’m going to continue living it. He can do anything he wants; it’s not my business or problem. Many people, not just celebrities, are unrepentant.
He didn’t act that way though. He begged for forgiveness, said he acted terribly and promised to change. That’s fine, but you can’t have it both ways. If you claim you’ve changed your life, and it’s not entirely clear that you have, it’s fair to be called on it.
Team Tiger is still in place, from his caddie to his agent to his various yes men. Woods tried to claim that no one else knew of his indiscretions, but various mistresses have dismissed that with documents that show an elaborate web of assistants who booked travel and set up meetings. So that’s another lie. If the people around him are the same, why should anyone believe anything is different?
5. What really happened in kindergarten?
On a few occasions Woods has told a story of being subjected to a horrific case of racism. He’s said as a kindergartner he was tied to a tree by older students and spray-painted with a racial epitaph. When his teacher found out, rather than protect him, she told him to “just go home.”
Well, the teacher, Maureen Decker, held a press conference last week to say the entire story is untrue and Woods owes her both a personal and public apology for portraying her as an insensitive racist.
So who is correct? Woods’ honesty is under serious question. He clearly has had no problem spreading lies to improve his image or garner sympathy. Besides, the story has a numerous holes in it.
Woods attended kindergarten in 1981 in Southern California, not the 1950s in some backwater town. Did his parents know? How couldn’t they since a kindergartner isn't capable of washing off spray paint or cleaning his clothes? Are we to believe his forceful mother and former Green Beret father just accepted it and didn’t storm down to the school to make a major issue? Would anyone just send their 6-year-old back the next day to deal with a bunch of violent racists? Decker said older kids never had access to her students anyway and she never heard of the incident.
So who is telling the truth? And if it isn’t Tiger, will he apologize?
Woods has no doubt practiced for all of the above questions and more. The format of a free-for-all news conference may appear to favor the media and not Woods, but the playing field is more level than you think. Woods is still in control, perched up above the reporters capable of answering long or short and dodging follow-ups.
The mass media session lends itself to showmanship, not getting answers. Tiger is smart and charismatic. This is why Woods is going the press conference route rather than a prolonged sit-down with any one reporter. The one-on-one scenario is where questions can be pressed, details attacked and explanations picked apart. The one question and done press conference plays to Tiger’s advantage.
He and his spin team are counting on this going well. Knowing Woods propensity for preparation, they’ve likely spent weeks working on every possible question and situation. Nothing is going to be left to chance.
People eager to see Tiger Woods squirm on Monday are probably going to be disappointed. With the media training he’s gotten, he ought to be able win the day by beating all those interview room chairs at their own game.
- Tiger Woods