By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
If you've ever driven on Interstate 85 in southern Virginia, you know radio stations are rather scarce for a good 30 miles. Returning from North Carolina yesterday, my FM stations played Miley Cyrus and, well, more Miley Cyrus. I was only able to pick up one AM station, a sports talk station from Parts Unknown.
As you can imagine, the main topic on the sports talk station was Tiger Woods. One caller referred to Woods' statement from yesterday and spelled out the potential fallout very succinctly. "If Tiger made a mistake, he made a mistake. We all do that. But if he lied about it..." he said, his voice trailing off.
Tiger Woods is possibly the most popular and most admired American there is. A politician's disapproval is mentioned in the same breath as their approval. Is there any American who has a negative feeling toward Woods? In the process of capturing Masters and Opens, he's captured the hearts and minds of countless Americans, bringing golf to the masses. He's carried himself with a dignity and grace impossible not to admire. We feel like we know him and we certainly like him.
All of this has given Woods an incredible amount of goodwill. And yet, the caller to the sports program identifies the challenge Woods faces. In any crisis communications situation, it is important to get the truth to the public as quickly as possible. By getting a statement out immediately, Woods could have driven the news and helped define it in his favor. Any story involving Tiger Woods is going to be a major story, one that will dominate sports news or, in this case, all news. Delays can only lead to rumors and speculation; reports of refusing to cooperate with authorities can only lead to charges of stonewalling. This is where Woods finds himself now, in a situation that raises more questions than it answers.
For Woods, the window of opportunity is closing. Whatever happened, his team has to get the truth out, refute any false rumors, and project the positive image of Woods that America has come to know—and do so now.
America has an incredible capacity to forgive, giving second and third chances. For that to happen for Woods, no matter how much credibility he has built, requires being both proactive and forthright. Otherwise, an approach like that of former Congressman Gary Condit could yield similar results.