Although it came about two months too late, Tiger Woods' apology on Friday (February 19) hit almost all the right notes. That's was the snap assessment of public relations guru Howard Bragman of Fifteen Minutes PR, who has helped set up his share of public mea culpa events, including Isaiah Washington's comments on using a homophobic slur, in the past.
"He looked sincere, said the right things — for the most part — even if he rambled a bit," said Bragman of the 14-minute, carefully scripted speech, which was attended by a hand-selected group of friends, supporters and media, and filmed with a single camera.
Reading from several sheets of paper, a contrite-looking Woods stood in front of a blue velvet curtain in a dark suit with no tie and spoke directly to the camera during the address, which came more than 80 days after a Thanksgiving car crash that set in motion a torrent of tabloid reports about Woods' many alleged infidelities. The first public, on-camera statement from Woods included apologies to his fans, his fellow golfers, his wife Elin, his children, family, sponsors and parents who've held the world's greatest golfer up as a model to their children.
Woods directly addressed for the first time his affairs, admitting to them and saying that he believed he could play by his own rules, a move Bragman said was smart.
"He rambled a bit and this isn't going to make it go away," Bragman said. "It may be the beginning of the end of this [part of the scandal] for him. I always tell clients, 'You fall into these holes very quickly, but climbing out takes a very, very long time.' "
Bragman said he was mostly satisfied with how Woods addressed the pressing questions fans and the media have wanted to know about: whether Elin attacked him on the morning of the crash as alleged by tabloid reports (and denied by Woods on Friday), whether he has taken performance-enhancing drugs (he adamantly said he has not) and whether he has been enrolled in a rehabilitation program (which he has for the past 40-plus days). "He said 'affair,' he said 'cheat,' he didn't use euphemisms," said Bragman. "The truth is, the number of people watching this or listening to this will be extraordinary. But in the end, the soundbites will be, 'I don't get to play by different rules.' "
If anything, rather than the typically stoic face Woods puts on, Bragman would have liked to have seen a bit more emotion from the golfer. "I tell my actor clients when they do the big, cathartic interview, 'If you're such a good actor, a bit of tears wouldn't hurt,' " Bragman said. "I felt it was a bit forced, but I don't think he's known as a warm, cuddly guy."
What wasn't smart, Bragman said, was the tightly scripted nature of the event, which was boycotted by many members of the golf press, who decried being shut out. "I hate the format," Bragman said. "He's basically at war with the media, which is not what you want to do. ... He picked a fight by not putting himself in a traditional media format and not answering questions."
And though he thought Woods did a fine job of reading the script, Bragman said he definitely waited too long to make his public apology. "He should have been on this from the beginning," he said. "He has to do what's right for him ultimately, but he waited too long and it was the wrong format. He could have done the sit-down with Oprah, Robin Roberts, Larry King or Matt Lauer. If he did an interview with a credible journalist, they wouldn't have ripped him apart."
Woods' mother was seated front and center at the event, with her arms crossed and lip jutted out for most of the press conference, but wife Elin, with whom Woods said he is trying to reconcile, was pointedly not in the room, which didn't surprise Bragman. "If Elin was there, some would say it was forced, that she only went there for the money," he said. "But if she wasn't there, there would be criticism too. Elin had to do what Elin had to do. We have to let her do what's right for her in this moment. She clearly didn't want to be there, which is good for her."
Bragman likes to say that time heals most wounds, and though many are never totally healed, Woods said he will eventually return to golf. The PR guru said that will help some people forgive and forget. But if he gets caught in the same trap again? "He won't get another chance," Bragman said. "That's it."