Following the Tiger Trail: The Public Trial of Tiger Woods

Curator's Note

Over the past few months, the Tiger Woods sex scandal has reached new heights of media frenzy in the amount of public scrutiny surrounding the famous golfer’s private life. Perhaps the definitive gesture in Woods’ redemption narrative is his current Nike advertisement. Released in April, the 30-second black and white commercial features a solemn Tiger directly addressing the camera and utilizes a voice recording of his deceased father, Earl Woods, that is de-contextualized to represent commentary on his son’s current predicament. Earl Woods as a figure in Tiger’s life (both as father and professional mentor) seem to haunt the golfer in this Nike spot, which reads as an inner monologue providing the element of reflection necessary to redeem his image.    

The commercial is only one component of Woods’ public atonement. Since the sex scandal’s inception, the golfer has navigated the intense media spotlight in ways that have seemed to go above and beyond the call of duty of effective celebrity crisis management. After reports of his infidelity first surfaced, Tiger and his team of minders were silent, allowing the news media to run wild with speculation about his personal issues. Woods then issued an ambiguous statement of apology on his website that speaks to the vociferous nature of tabloid media scrutiny and the need for privacy during these difficult times in his life. Though he comments that “Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions,” the barrage of information that surfaced concerning his sexual exploits seemed to deem it necessary for him to make such a public admission of guilt. On February 19th, Woods gave a televised 14-minute scripted speech in which he apologized for his behavior. Though the speech was directed to those closest to him, the nature of the public platform made it available to an audience of millions worldwide as they tuned into the event via CNN, TMZ, and other news media outlets.

The sheer spectacle of such a public disclosure of domestic transgression is interesting and speaks to the desire to witness image desecration in an open forum. Here, written words were not enough. The visual presentation of Tiger’s fall from grace in some way rendered his plight more palatable. In those brief moments, the pristine and always closely managed golfer was recognized as flesh and not as an otherworldly sports figure.        

Tiger returned to golf in April amidst much buzz--now that the sports star had atoned for his sins publically, gone to therapy/rehab, and witnessed his image overhaul, would he still be able to redeem himself on the golf course? While this is yet to be fully answered, Nike saw fit to release its commercial introducing a brand new Tiger. This Tiger seems to be acutely aware of the discursive spaces that construct his public image. The hint of flashing lights bouncing off of Tiger’s face at the commercial’s end suggests that ultimately Tiger is not a victim of his own individual infractions, but rather a victim of the media and the power that comes with fame. And ultimately in the end, perhaps Tiger’s silence says it all.


Thanks for posting this fascinating example of the narrative around the golf star Tiger Woods which Nike is using as a means to brand itself while also helping establish the ‘new’ Tiger Woods brand. I am struck by the way Nike draws on public knowledge of Earl’s and Tiger’s father/son narrative and their goal to inspire a younger generation of sports stars. This story seems to be linked implicitly with public knowledge of Tiger’s time out from golf after the scandal, his experience of ‘in-patient therapy’, and Tiger’s claim in the press conference clip that he wants to ‘become a better man’. One might assume then that therapy and lots of time for reflection is what allows Tiger to ‘learn’ the value of fatherly advice (not to mention to learn from his mother’s Buddhist influence) or perhaps simply return to a life that is driven by a tradition of ‘family values’. In the press conference Tiger also says ‘I lost track of what I was taught’. What I see here is Nike’s savvy use of the idea of Tiger’s long haul process of ‘identity work’ , which is linked here to discourses around self-help, as a way of marketing itself as a morally responsible brand that is sceptical about the costs of achieving the American Dream. So Nike’s previous slogan ‘Just Do It’ seems challenged here. Nike implies that ‘doing it’, achieving the sports celebrity dream, involves not only enduring the physical /psychic determination needed for lengthy training, but also enduring the hard ‘reflexive’ work that is involved in what Anthony Giddens has called the reflexive project of the self in late modernity. What is interesting is the way that Tiger Woods’s reinvention of self is enabled so effectively here by Nike. At the same time Nike’s reinvention of its own brand is also supported by the Tiger Woods’s narrative.

 I’m coming to this a little bit late, I know, so forgive me for being late to party. What I found so interesting is how the videos are juxtaposed against one another in terms of parental influence.  In the press conference, Tiger Woods specifically apologizes to his mother, and makes his mea culpa in explicit and implicit terms.  Realizing his mother has lost face by her successful son’s fall from grace, he is sure to distance his upbringing from his behavior as an adult (I don’t know how many of you can relate, but I grew up in a family where I was constantly reminded that to shame myself was to shame my entire family.).  Woods is sure to mention that he was raised Buddhist but he turned away from those teachings and in the process lost himself.  His mother, he implies, is not to be blamed. 

The press conference was heavily structured according to Wood’s specifications.  No questions were allowed and only reporters from 3 news outlets: AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg were allowed in the tent where he spoke, a live feed was provided other news outlets.  That Bloomberg, which handles much of the financial news was specifically invited, is telling in itself in re: Wood’s endorsement deals and impending financial losses. 

In the Nike ad, we again see his parental presence, this time his father, pushing him to explain himself, but unlike the press conference, Woods is unable to respond.  He is answering to a higher power, in this case his father, who also could stand in as the disembodied voice of God, asking Woods to explain himself.  Woods is no longer inside of a constructed tent where he is able to control the proceedings, but outside, vulnerable to the elements, vulnerable to his father/the Father (although he said he was raised Buddhist, I wonder if Nike if trying to push the borders a bit and muddy things up).

This time, the flurry of flashbulbs and cameras has rendered Woods mute, making him the little boy in the glare of the media trying to answer his father, trying to find his voice. 


Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.