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What is Nike really saying?
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When Tiger Woods invoked his Buddhism during his first public apology I wrote that in this case religion had replaced patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel.
But he and his loyal sponsor have found a new last refuge. And it is truly stomach-turning in its cynicism.
By allowing Nike to use the voice of his dead father Earl in a 30-second commercial Tiger has done something more venal than nailing cocktail waitresses and porn stars Fredo-style. He has essentially robbed his own father's grave.
In the spot, a stoic, resolute, contrite Tiger stares at the camera while his father intones, "Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. Did you learn anything?"
Alas, poor Eldrick, what have you done?
If Earl Woods wanted to promote discussion and inquisition, Tiger and Nike have obliged him. But the conversation won't be about what Tiger has learned, it will rightfully revolve around the course record for bad taste and how thoroughly Tiger and Nike have obliterated it.
In our society we've become accustomed to transgressors being trotted out next to someone in good moral standing, often an aggrieved wife or a member of the clergy. But digging up a loved one's grave in a craven stab at absolution? Yeesh. Tiger and Nike have badly mis-clubbed on this one.
If there was a marginally mitigating silver lining to Tiger's now-legendary extra-marital dalliances it is that each and every one of these episodes appears to have been (very) consensual with the women swooning at the opportunity to bed the world's most recognizable athlete.
Earl Woods died in 2006. Even though he himself took a mulligan on his first marriage, divorcing his first wife with whom he had three children after meeting Tiger's mother, it would seem there is a strong possibility that Earl would not have agreed to participate in the rehabilitation of his son's brand in this manner.
Earl, as we all know, was a rigid, demanding military man. He drove his son to greatness partly by placing enormous expectations on him. It's safe to assume that the demanding father would have been more than a little disappointed by his son's philandering, which allegedly included an assignation on the night of Earl's death.
If there was even the remotest possibility that Earl would have refused this request how could Tiger have acceded to it? Is the great lesson he learned from this chapter in his life that you rehab your image by any means necessary?
The Supreme Court ruled recently that corporations are endowed with rights once reserved for individual citizens. But what of the rights of the departed? Nike can exercise free speech, but Earl Woods cannot exercise his right not to speak, his right not to participate in this shameless theater.
I actually admire Nike for sticking by Tiger while so many other sponsors fled. Phil Knight has heroically stood by his man in tough times. It's the kind of ramrod loyalty Elin Nordegren was not afforded.
But this creepy commercial debases all its participants.
Nike looks less like the goddess of victory after which it is named and more like her mother, Styx, goddess of the underworld.
Tiger looks weak, desperate and unscrupulous.
And poor Earl Woods has been dragged from his final resting place into this corporate sludge, an unwitting collaborator in a grotesque tribute to limitless cynicism.
I don't know what Tiger has learned these last four months (besides don't send texts or leave voicemails). But we learned something about Tiger and Nike when we saw this commercial.
The lesson: when it comes to restoring Tiger's image nothing is out of bounds.