Commentary

Tiger ad sends wrong signal

Originally Published: April 8, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Like most of you, I've been wondering, "Where have all the great Tiger Woods sex addiction ads gone?"

Sheesh. Have you seen that 30-second Nike nightmare? A nearly unblinking, impassive Woods staring directly into the camera. The voice-over of his deceased father asking, "And did you learn anything?"

I can answer that.

No.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesTiger Woods made his return to golf Thursday. Before embarking on his first 18 holes of competitive golf in 144 days, he returned to the airwaves with a controversial Nike ad the day before the Masters.

If he had, Woods would have never let Nike air the bizarre, self-important, manipulative commercial. Instead, the spot would have died a quick, appropriate death on a creative director's desktop.

We know about Woods misplacing his moral compass in recent years. But at least he and his Nike handlers always could read the temperature of Woods' corporate and Joe Golf constituents.

Not this time. This time, they lost the thermometer. They forgot -- or ignored -- that Woods is still damaged goods. He is a recovering, not recovered rehab patient. His image is in more pieces than a shattered beer bottle.

But, no, we get Woods staring us down like he's reading a 30-foot sidehill putt. We get Earl Woods' voice, Yoda-like, imparting his wisdom. The whole thing feels forced, tone-deaf and, worst of all, arrogant.

Of course, Tiger thought it was wonderful.

"I think it's very apropos," he said after Thursday's jaw-dropping 68, his first sub-70 opening round at a Masters. "I think that's what my dad would say. I think it's amazing how my dad can speak to me from different ways. Even when he's long gone, he's still helping me.

"Any son who's lost a father, who meant so much in their life, I think they would understand the spot."

So Nike and Woods were going for the grieving-son demographic?

I don't know about you, but if I were trying to heal the self-inflicted and still fresh bruise marks caused by epic marital infidelity, I wouldn't go to Nike for medical treatment. And I certainly wouldn't commercialize what Woods, as recently as Monday's news conference here, had said was a personal, private matter.

You can't have it both ways. You can't demand privacy, but then appear in a national ad alluding to the matter that is timed for release on the eve of the Masters. You can't complain about the unwanted attention paid to your family during the scandal's aftermath, but then approve a commercial that features the deceased family patriarch.

The TV spot is unsettling for all sorts of reasons. It isn't a warm conversation between father and son; it is a 30-second lecture. And the gravelly voice is of a man whose own alleged marital transgressions have been referenced in recent months in a Golf Digest story and, just last week, in a Vanity Fair piece.

Rather than humanize Woods, the ad further separates him from us. It portrays him more as a fallen golf god than as a fallen husband and father. The last thing Woods needs, or deserves, is to be deified.

Woods had the right idea when he arrived at Augusta this week. He tried to blend in -- at least as best as he could after a 144-day absence from competitive golf. He played his practice rounds. He spent his time on the range. He did his Monday news conference. He reached out to golf fans and even apologized to his fellow pros.

Most of all, he simply wanted to play golf.

"That first tee, I'm looking forward to it," he said Monday. "I haven't looked forward to that tee shot in a long time, not like this. It feels fun again. You know, that's something that's been missing."

Perfect. That's where Woods should have stopped. There was an element of humility to his comments. He seemed like someone who understood that his image and reputation couldn't be repaired in days -- just like his addiction couldn't be repaired by 45 days of treatment.

But then came the Nike ad.

You've seen the black-and-white commercial. You've heard Earl Woods' voice.

"Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion," Earl says. "I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?"

Tiger doesn't say a peep in the commercial. We don't know if he's listening to his old man, or wondering what to order for dinner. We definitely don't know what he's thinking or how he's feeling.

As for the mysterious Earl Woods comments, the audio comes from "Tiger -- The Authorized DVD Collection." If you want to know anything else, Nike refers you to its one and only public statement:

"We support Tiger and his family. As he returns to competitive golf, the ad addresses his time away from the game using the powerful words of his father."

Powerful? In what way?

This is a cut-and-paste job. Earl's out-of-context words attached to Tiger's out-of-our-imagination scandal. It would have been powerful had Woods actually responded to his father's comments. Or better yet, had he responded more completely to some of the questions posed to him at Monday's presser.

The Nike commercial accomplishes nothing. It is a clumsy attempt at relevance. Earl Woods doesn't say anything that we haven't already said ourselves about Tiger. And Tiger doesn't say anything at all.

Did he learn anything? Maybe. Kind of.

Even in the wind and rain of Thursday afternoon's round, Woods genuinely seemed to enjoy himself. The crowds fed off his play and off his personality. It was as if golf and this Masters were part of his 12-step recovery program.

No need for the 13th step -- that Nike ad.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

MORE COMMENTARY

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

ALSO SEE