I’m in no position to judge whether Tiger Woods was sincere in his public apology.
But I’ll say this much: it came off as contrived.
He owned up to everything. Not one hint of denial. He apologized and was, surprisingly, deeply introspective and revealing. The statement itself was perfect.
But the execution? Yeesh.
The pauses between sentences—for dramatic effect, no doubt, or maybe it was him reaching to remember his next line—were a little too long. The glances down at his written statement were a few too many. How eve·ry syl·la·ble was drawn out for emphasis. The sighs. The occasionally fumbled recitation. The dead-center look into the camera. It all felt rehearsed.
Which it obviously was. You have to expect a script in this situation; no one should freestyle a public statement.
But did his PR team not see him practice the routine? Did they not coach him?
How could they not? The build-up to this day was frenzied, and it was covered like a State of the Union Address. The world’s most recognized and once, its most revered athlete hadn’t been seen in months, except in hazy photographs—Is that him? Nah, it can’t be. Oh wait, it is!—outside a Mississippi sex rehabilitation clinic.
It was imperative that Tiger leave a good impression. I’m not sure he did.
And it wasn’t just him. The audience just sat there without a hint of reaction, as if they’d been sedated. It was absolute silence. The entire spectacle was eerie.
Tiger’s mother was different. She sat there quietly, stoically, looking at the ground then into the distance and back down, blinking, unable to look at her son. She couldn’t bear to see her child in such humbling circumstances. You felt for her—more than you did her son.
I didn’t expect Tiger to exhibit Obama-like eloquence, but I’ve seen toddlers put on more believable performances.
Tiger could’ve taken a lesson from Charles Barkley.
Sir Charles was unfiltered. He was heartfelt. No hint of a lawyer in his words. He even took a risk and voiced his prior uncertainty of TNT’s executives. But he came off as human, and that’s the key.
Take a second, and think about what Charles did. He drove while under the influence. Now, compare that with infidelity. No one can die from cheating. Adultery can’t leave kids in a wheelchair. It’s not even against the law. What Charles did was far more deplorable. But we still love Charles, despite what he did, and he has risen from the ashes relatively unscathed.
Was this due to his candid apology? Partly. One part of me thinks it was his believable contrition, but another part agrees with best-selling author and staff writer for The New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell. In an email correspondence with ESPN’s Bill Simmons, Gladwell wrote:
… Celebrities can get away with something so long as it confirms — rather than contradicts — our pre-existing impression of them. Charles Barkley can get a DWI and a few months later still be taken seriously when he talks about going into politics. No problem. We believe he’s a carouser. Clinton can recover from Monica Lewinsky because we knew, going in, that he had a wandering eye, and we’d already adjusted our perception of him accordingly. Kobe recovered from the rape charge because he’s never pretended to anything other than an arrogant narcissist. But Kobe could never get away with pulling a Ron Artest and having a drink at halftime. That violates our core sense of Kobe as the stone-cold competitor.
Does anyone even remember the DWI? Maybe. But we don’t hold it against Charles.
We know him. We have a certain portrayal of him in our minds. We realize he’s a goof and love him for it. There are no expectations of philanthropy or saintliness. So when Charles commits a particularly egregious indiscretion, we overlook it because of our lowered standards.
Tiger, on the other hand, projected a pristine image. He made us think, with commercials and his press conference demeanor, that he was a good and upright man.
His adultery sent that all to hell. Thus, the backlash.
But like I said, I’m not judging Tiger—just his performance.
Maybe he was—is—truly repentant, and he simply flopped on his statement. Maybe he’s just a bad public speaker.
If he isn’t, then he gets this year’s Razzie for worst performance by an actor in a leading role.
People will be critical of his grandiloquence (or lack thereof). But we need to remember he’s not an actor, he’s not a politician, he’s not a preacher. He’s a golfer. A few stumbled lines and a deadpanned delivery doesn’t equate to insincerity. Let’s judge Tiger on his actions and not his words.