Saturday, December 5, 2009

Managing a Tiger

For years now, according to most published reports, Tiger Woods has maintained a very tight control over his public image. That all changed last weekend following a middle of the night accident in which he slammed his car into a fire hydrant and tree outside of his Orlando area home.

Within very little time nearby streets were lined with camera crews and journalists trying to find out what actually happened. Tiger remained mostly mum, issuing only terse statements via his website. And then the tabloids and others stepped in to fill the void. Tales of affairs were suddenly all over the airwaves. So was wild speculation. For all of the tight control Tiger Woods has maintained over the years, somebody failed to tell him the single most important lesson: Nature abhors a vacuum. In other words, all that silence will be filled, and the more outrageous and damaging stories will find their way to the surface because the one person who could clear things up won't speak.

Believe me, I totally sympathize with his desire for privacy to salvage his marriage and right whatever wrongs he's done. But there's something surprisingly naive in thinking he can do that in seclusion while an avid public awaits answers. Not that his private life is any of our business, of course, but in this day and age we've all become celebrity watchers to one degree or another. The Internet feeds that insatiable need to know in ways that the tabloids once did. Only now it's instantaneous and not necessarily accurate.

From what I've read, it seems Tiger's friend Charles Barkley had it just right. Barkley said Tiger should have issued a public statement very early on and put the whole thing to rest. Acknowledging a misdeed in the beginning ends the wild speculation. It silences the stories in a way that evasions do not. Didn't we learn that lesson from President Clinton? Once people have the truth, they move on. When they're told a lie or half-truth, they keep digging for more.

Over my years as a journalist, the people I admired the most where those who put the truth on the line. After all, what's left to say once the facts are out there? "I did it. I was wrong. I intend to fix it." It can be as simple as that. People may judge you. People may give you a pass. But they won't add liar to your list of sins.

So, while most of us will never have to deal with our mistakes in such a public way, there are a few lessons we can take from what's happened to Tiger. Acknowledge our mistakes. Apologize to those we've hurt. And ask for forgiveness. Man up, as it were. In the end, it's not so much our accomplishments that distinguish us -- and Tiger Woods has many -- but the way we handle the crises. It's a lesson he's learning in the most painful way possible.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on all this. Just click on comments below.

Sherryl Woods

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