Project Rebuild Tiger

The voice speaks from beyond the grave, in a tone of ultimate authority. It’s Tiger Woods’ late father Earl, giving him an old-fashioned tongue-lashing for his misdeeds in the startling new Masters-timed commercial from Nike: “I want to find out what your thinking was,” Earl Woods is heard to say as his famous son stares manfully into the camera. “I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?”

The commercial is genius. Kudos to Nike.

But let’s consider where this ad came from -- and what it is telling us.

First, remember that Tiger Woods has two jobs. One is professional golfer; the other is spokesmodel/hero. The second is actually his primary job and the one that delivers most of his income. Indeed, if before the scandal broke he had suffered a career-ending injury, he could have continued to work as a pitchman indefinitely.

If Woods’ guilt about his contemptible behavior affected his career as a golfer, it never showed before and there’s no particular reason to think that having covered himself in shame is going to keep him from again winning the Masters or other major tournaments. If the guy can win the U.S. Open with a broken leg he knows how to tune out distractions.

Nike knows this -- everybody knows it -- but the fairy tale it is marketing is very different. It is that of a good man who somehow fell into a swamp of “addiction,” wisely sought “therapy,” “counseling,” and “rehab” for it, suffered mightily -- and then bounced back from the bottom to win more trophies. This Nike will spin as his ultimate redemption and hurry on, as if being a great golfer absolves you of being a sorry human being.

Cheating on your wife with every D-cupped cocktail waitress and stripper from Augusta to Pebble Beach is not a symptom of “addiction,” which reframes it as a disease. It’s a choice, one that reveals the true character of Woods to be that of a careless, selfish, swine. Regardless of what happens on the links, his endorsement career ought to be over. His contracts, which contain boilerplate morals clauses, were nullified by his adultery. If he continues to star in TV commercials and magazine ads -- even if his confident smile is replaced by the chastened frowny face he unconvincingly sports in the new Nike spot -- it cheapens the idea of what a hero is. It says to every boy and girl across the land that who you are, down deep, doesn’t matter. What you do to your loved ones doesn’t matter. All that matters is the image you create.