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02.19.10

Tiger Nailed His Apology

Judy Smith, a crisis manager who has advised embattled public figures ranging from David Paterson to Michael Vick, breaks down the 7 reasons Tiger’s long-awaited public apology worked.

After months of speculation, rumor, and innuendo regarding the sordid particulars of scandal surrounding him, Tiger Woods emerged today and took the first steps toward personal redemption. While his apology may not have been taken in a manner or style that suits everyone, and there will be continued criticism of the media’s restricted access and the tightly controlled atmosphere surrounding the statement itself, it is important to remember that ultimately this was the format best suited for Tiger Woods. The event and prepared remarks were designed to allow him the opportunity to convey his message in what for him would be the most optimum manner, unfiltered, unedited, and direct.

He let us know that fame and fortune is a seductress and that the rules apply to all of us no matter what our station in life.

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During a crisis there will always be criticism that statements such as this were not “managed” correctly or that the person involved should have said more, said less, or made their remarks in a different manner. Usually these are from stakeholders that have something to gain from those who have fallen: competitors, journalists, or other adversaries. However, as someone who has had a long career in crisis management and has been in the room as strategy was being formulated to deal with these types of high-stakes moments, I can tell you firsthand, that from a communications perspective, Tiger’s statement today contained important elements and themes that will make the process of his redemption much more plausible.

—He took ownership and responsibility for his actions and did not try and pass the buck.

—He apologized to the right people: his family, his fans, his sponsors, and the game of golf.

—He asked for forgiveness and reminded us that we are all human—even global icons—and admitted his need for help.

—He let us know that fame and fortune is a seductress and that the rules apply to all of us no matter what our station in life.

—He set the record straight on rumors that had been defining media coverage of this controversy, such as the alleged assault by his wife, the allegations of domestic violence, and reports of drug use.

—He set boundaries with the media. While he admitted bringing this upon himself, he stated the unfairness in harassing his family, especially his children. He also made it clear that many of the details between himself, his wife, and his family should remain private, essentially saying that he may be fair game but they are not.

—He acknowledged having a spiritual base, in this case Buddhism, and admitted he had strayed from its principles and that he needed to return to the teachings he grew up with.

A crisis by its very nature is a negative event. No amount of flowery words or statements will entirely repair the damage done to Tiger’s image in the short term. However, having given his definitive statement on the matter, moving forward he will be better able to pivot back to the issues that really matter, repairing his personal and family life and ultimately getting back to the game of golf. Given that this statement today was the best of bad options in front of him, today’s remarks have to be considered a successful first step on Tiger’s long road to recovery.