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Tiger Woods Will Earn Trust By His Behavior Not His Words

Tiger Woods is back playing golf, and he’s doing well at the Masters. He’s had a largely warm welcome, and the last time I looked, he was 5 under late in the second round. Those who love him are pleased to have him back, and they are watching.

Many are commenting on the current Nike commercial where you see a stoic Tiger Woods as you hear the words of his now deceased father Earl—“Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was, what your feelings are, and did you learn anything.”

It is the job of successful marketers to provide very short stories customers want to believe. Those who are most pleased to have him back in golf want to believe, and many like the Nike Ad. They are also the ones most likely to buy Nike equipment he endorses.

Even those who are critical are talking about the ad. We’re talking about it. It’s spreading. Marketers love that. Those who want to believe the best about Tiger and want him to earn redemption in some way, but there are many who are not ready to buy this story line. In watching the ad, a question comes to mind—is it right for Tiger to make money letting his dead father talk about learning from his failure to be faithful?

There is a term called “selective scanning”—it’s why two people can see the same politician and one is moved to tears and the other yells out, “Liar, liar!” Those who are looking at this ad will see what they want to see.

In my book, The Optimism Advantage, there’s a whole chapter on getting beyond failures and mistakes. I like to compare life to a car with no brakes or off switch. You can’t go back, because there’s no reverse. On that kind of journey, that’s why your rearview mirror is smaller than your front window. Just as Tiger’s dad said, “Did you learn anything?” Optimists learn from the past but don’t get stuck there. After all, if you spend too much time in the rearview mirror, you’re more likely to hit a tree out the front window.

In fact, I quote Tiger in The Optimism Advantage, and it was a quote I considered leaving out after his current problems. But it speaks to everyone’s challenge. He once said, “People want to compare my performance to the past, and I’m trying to get better in the future, not the past.”

Now, was this the right time for this ad, I would have preferred a different one reflecting something he said earlier in his first statement to the press last February when he said, “As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology will not come in words. It will come in the form of my behavior over time.”

If I were creating that Nike commercial, I would have had him standing on a first tee with fans around him watching, not supportive but not angry. Tiger would say to the camera. “You don’t earn back respect in golf or in life by just saying you’re coming back. Those are words. You earn it one hole, one shot, one choice, one day at a time. Trust can be lost in a moment; I know it will take me a long time to earn that trust back. I hope you are watching, because I’m committed to do just that.”

The only place that perfect people exist is in educational movies. All of us have to find ways to take responsibility for past mistakes and misjudgments. Tiger is on that journey. I wish him well, but when you’re that famous. You have a lot of people watching. Some will never give him approval, and that may be appropriate. I just hope for Tiger that the people he is concerned about earning trust from are his wife Elin, his daughter Sam and son Charlie. That’s the game in his life that ought to count most! We will see. After all in the department store of life, sports is the toy department.

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