In his first public appearance since details of his multiple extra-marital affairs began unraveling, a red-eyed Tiger Woods delivered a statement in front of a hand-picked audience Friday morning.
Woods, who has not been seen or heard from since late November, appeared at the TPC Sawgrass golf course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The event aired opposite the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, which has been going on since Wednesday in Arizona. Accenture is one of the sponsors that has dropped Woods in recent months.
Here are a few highlights:
“I’m also aware of the pain my behavior has caused here in this room I have let you down and I’ve let down my fans.”
“I felt I could get away with what I wanted to. I felt I had worked hard in my life and deserved all the temptations around me … I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules.”
“It’s now time for me to make amends … It’s time for me to start living a life of integrity.”
Woods’ voice rose when he referred to speculation that his Nov. 27 car accident was caused by domestic violence: “It angers me that people would fabricate a story like that. [My wife] Elin never hit me that night or any night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence. Ever.”
He also addressed his possible return to golf, saying he does plan on playing again but does not know when: “I won’t rule out returning this year. When I return I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game.”
The general sentiment from PR and crisis communication professionals in the area is that Woods did well in fully taking responsibility for his actions.
“This was sort of the mother of ‘mea culpas’ in length and detail and self flagellation,” said Susan Goodell, senior director at Warschawski, a public relations firm in Baltimore.
But it was only a job half-well done. The resounding chorus from professionals is that Woods is prolonging his negative image by refusing to take questions from the media.
“Without taking questions and really orchestrating it and limiting media members in there, it reeks of control and insincerity,” said John Maroon, president of Maroon PR in Marriottsville. “If you’re going to fall on the sword, fall on it completely.”
On the one hand, both said they were generally surprised Woods spoke about as much as he did (his return to golf, domestic violence, his renewed interest in his Buddhist faith, and he even thanked PGA players and Accenture for “understanding” why he chose to make his announcement Friday).
But on the other hand, they said, the statement gives Woods an excuse not to give the public any more. By addressing some things and not addressing others by saying they are private, Woods’ statement acts as a cover-all, Goodell said.
Maroon said the fact that Woods will not answer questions is overshadowing the fact that he apologized. He said while a traditional news conference on Friday could have been a wild free-for-all, following it up with a sit-down interview with a news organization could have nipped this in the bud.
“Then you can probably move on,” he said. “At some point he’s going to have to answer some questions if he wants to rebuild his brand.”
Levi Rabinowitz, a local crisis communications expert, said the format of Friday’s event was one that he never would have advised a client to take. Because of the worldwide interest in the golfer and this scandal, controlling the number of people allowed makes sense to a degree, he said. But limiting it to a few media outlets and not taking questions is taking it too far.
“There were questions [you] could have asked the media to confine themselves to,” he said.
Woods may have apologized but his actions speak louder, Rabinowitz said.
“The contradictions are profoundly communicative,” he said. “His message is in the controlling way he conducted his message … Taking responsibility is changing your behavior — from this event to today, his behavior has not changed.”