Tiger can learn plenty of lessons from Kobe Bryant

ATLANTA (AP) -- When the subject turned to Tiger Woods, the eyelids narrowed into a defiant squint. The jaw muscles tightened up to form something between a smile and a scowl. The head shook back and forth.

ATLANTA (AP) -- When the subject turned to Tiger Woods, the eyelids narrowed into a defiant squint. The jaw muscles tightened up to form something between a smile and a scowl. The head shook back and forth.

With that, Kobe Bryant walked away.

No way he was going there.

Fair enough. Yet Woods' road to redemption after a string of tawdry affairs will undoubtedly follow many of the guideposts that Bryant so expertly navigated on the way to atoning for his infamous trip to a Colorado spa seven years ago.

"In taking his golf game and personal morality to a higher level, Tiger Woods' rehabilitation role model will have to be Kobe Bryant," said Porcher L. Taylor III, who teaches business ethics at the University of Richmond. He recently chaired a symposium on what the Woods scandal might mean to future endorsement deals.


Bryant's career was rocked by allegations that he sexually assaulted a 19-year-old hotel worker in the summer of 2003. The Los Angeles Lakers star denied forcing himself on the woman, and the criminal charges that could have sent him to prison were eventually dropped. But he was forced to acknowledge cheating on his wife, leading to the long, tedious process of reclaiming his once-sterling reputation.

Bryant still hears the occasional taunt from visiting fans, who have been known to shout out the room number where the sexual encounter took place. Still, he's largely evolved from the butt of jokes to a revered sports star, one of the two best players in the NBA along with LeBron James, a future Hall of Famer who led his team to an NBA title last season and helped the U.S. capture a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Bryant is again a marketing powerhouse, commanding millions of dollars in endorsements. His replica No. 24 jersey is not only the biggest seller in the United States, but Europe and China as well. All has been forgiven, it would seem.

"A gold medal and an NBA title sure went a long way," said Larry DeGaris, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Indianapolis.

Winning is an absolute must in any comeback story. Americans have shown an inordinate amount of patience and understanding with their fallen sports stars, as long as they wind up with a ring on their finger or a medal around their necks.

Fortunately for Woods, that is probably the most reachable goal on his to-do list. Not even the biggest cynic or most vocal critic believes a five-month layoff and a lifetime's worth of sensational headlines will turn the world's greatest player into just another golfer.

How many fans will quickly forgive and forget should Woods' return to the game at Augusta National ends with another green jacket? How many will block out the memories of his staggering fall from grace if he knocks off Jack Nicklaus' record for the most career major titles? (Woods is four behind the Golden Bear's mark of 18).

"We live in a country that loves to see turnarounds," Taylor said. "When there's someone who's on Mount Everest and they slide down the mountain, we love the return to success because it takes so much effort and energy to climb back up the mountain."


Make no mistake, it won't be easy.

"We all thought he had this picture perfect life," said Gemma Puglisi, who teaches media relations and crisis communications at American University's School of Communications in Washington, D.C. "What's devastating is not just that he cheated. That's bad enough. But it was not just one woman. It was all these women. He had this dark side that we never knew existed. That's why his fall from grace is so devastating. He had everything, and he blew it all."

While Woods has surely received plenty of counseling on how to handle his comeback, there seems to be a consensus among academics about he must do to regain the adoration, or at least the grudging respect, of the fans:

-- Be humble. Woods always carried himself with an intimidating aura that bordered on arrogance, certainly understandable given his success. He must now show some of the vulnerability that came through during his first public comments on the scandal, when he put the blame squarely on his own shoulders, apologized for the pain he had caused his family and friends, and conceded that he strayed off course because of an inexcusable sense of entitlement.

"I've always thought that Pete Rose's biggest crime was arrogance, not gambling," said DeGaris, referring to baseball's career hits leader who was banned from the game for wagering.

-- Make himself more accessible. Woods has always been guarded with both the media and his fans, which was viewed as a necessary evil when dealing with a star of his magnitude. But vague, snippy answers to the media aren't going to be tolerated like they once were. And some fans may not as accepting of a steely eyed Woods storming by them on the course, refusing to sign an autograph or pose for a picture like most other golfers do.

Puglisi said Woods might want to consider adding tournaments to his usually limited schedule, giving him more exposure to the fans. Or take up some new charitable causes, showing that he's committed to spending his free time on more worthwhile pursuits than chasing women. Chip away at his guarded persona by going on more public outings with his wife (assuming their marriage survives) and two kids.

"He can't just focus on his game," Puglisi said. "He's got to show people he's an everyday guy."


-- Realize this is essentially a lifetime probation. Woods must accept that his off-the-course shenanigans have put a target on his back that will always be there. He can't allow even a hint of scandal to crop up again.

Avoid the strip clubs. Never be the seen in the company of a beautiful woman unless his wife is there, too. Avoid even the most minor of transgressions (at the moment, even a parking ticket could be seen as a sign of arrogance, and he definitely needs to keep away from those fire hydrants).

"Stay at home," advised Phil Jackson, Bryant's coach with the Lakers. "That does a lot for you."

Woods was such a marketing powerhouse that his scandal could have an impact not only on his future business dealings, but those of other top athletes and celebrities.

Taylor can even foresee a day when companies will want clearance to actually spy on their clients to ensure their money isn't going to flushed away by embarrassing revelations. Instead of being trailed by the paparazzi, athletes could find themselves shadowed by corporate-hired private investigators, on the lookout for any hint of public-relations trouble.

If there's a saving grace in all this, it's that at least Woods didn't get caught cheating or taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Those are crimes that might have stuck with him forever. Just ask Mark McGwire, who bulked up chemically and has little chance of making the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite ranking as one of the sport's greatest home run hitters.

"Tiger really didn't commit a crime against the sport," DeGaris said. "What McGwire did was a career killer. He can't go anywhere outside St. Louis. No corporate sponsors are ever going to touch him. Ever. He's done."


Woods, meanwhile, can hope he is starting the road to redemption.

What To Read Next
Get Local