Beware the cover-up, Tiger warned

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More often than not high-profile figures have been forgiven by the public for misbehaving – but never for cover-ups.

More often than not high-profile figures have been forgiven by the public for misbehaving, even philandering, but cover-up is something they never forgive.

That’s the warning, being passed on to Tiger Woods by a host of hot-shot celebrity PRO advisers, including Gene Grabowski.

And it follows the World No 1 golfers reluctance to be interviewed by the Florida Highway Patrol or even to explain his bizarre car crash outside his up-market mansion in Florida in the early hours of the morning following Thanksgiving Day.

Beyond issuing a brief statement in which he apologized for ’embarrassing’ his family, saying “I’m human and I’m not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn’t happen again”, he made no attempt to explain why he reversed into a fire hydrant and then drove into a large tree on the other side of the road at 2.25 in the morning.

Nor did he say why he was found in a dazed condition lying outside of his Cadillac SUV.

His wife told police she used a golf club to smash the back window to help him out. But Woods has yet to say where he was going at that hour, or to explain how he lost control of his vehicle at a speed too slow even to release the air bags of the SUV

Nor did he attempted to answer the damaging rumours raging about the crash being the direct result of a fiery domestic spat caused by tabloid newspaper stories alleging he was cheating on his wife with a divorced New York socialite.

“It doesn’t add up,” Grabowski told the Golf International I-Mag. this week .

“He needs to do a better job of describing the cause of the accident. That’s the crux of the question.”

Woods, generally regarded as the world’s most famous athlete, has always gone to great lengths to protect himself and his family from the prying eyes of the public by living a very private life.

Until now he had managed to steer clear of anything that even hinted at controversy and indeed has fired a highly-regarded coach and a leading caddy for being, in his view, too loose with their talk about their relationships with him.

But the situation he has been thrown into here is altogether different to anything he has had to face in the past and unless he quickly changes his mind about the course he should best pursue, say many of the best US celebrity PRO’s, his reputation and indeed his sense of self-worth could be badly damaged

“It’s his privilege not to address the other innuendoes and reports that have surfaced over the last three or four days,” says one of the leading PROs, Steve Rosner, co-founder of 16W Marketing.

“But by not addressing them, I believe he has set up a situation where the story will continue to be the story.”

Citing facial injuries he claims to have received in the crash, Woods has avoided an early confrontation with the media by pulling out of this week’s Chevron World Challenge, the silly season charity event he annually hosts.

But he will not be left alone and will only be able to hold of the media until early January when he is set play in his opening match of 2010 at Torrey Pines in San Diego

Unless, of course, he takes the advice of the street-wise celebrity PRO advisers who say he should follow the lead taken recently by TV show host David Letterman

Instead of making vague Tiger-like statements that raise more questions than get answered, the late-night comic went very public with his admission of bad behavior, and even cracked a few jokes at his own expense. After a few days, the controversy surrounding him had blown over and he was able to move on.

Letterman’s indiscretions looked set to become a long-running tabloid cover story, but without telling all, he admitted, despite his being a married father, to having had sex with women who worked on his show and confirmed that one of these liaisons had led to an alleged blackmail plot.

Letterman, say the PROs, followed the number one rule in crisis communication: He took control of the story – something Tiger has so far failed to do..

“My recommendation,” George Merlis, founder of Experience Media Consulting Group, told the Golf International I-Mag, is always to get out in front and curtail speculation by distributing fact. Speculation gets dangerous and, once it’s out there. It has a nasty habit of becoming accepted as fact.

“By not talking or addressing issues, you’re inviting everyone on all sides to express vague opinions, and they end up dominating the conversation.”

Examples of top sports celebrities who were forgiven their sins after owning up to them, include the Yankie baseballers Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte.

Unlike the ace home run exponents, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, who initally denied using performance-enhacing drugs, Rodriguez and Pettitte admitted to having used the drugs and apologised.

Bonds and McGwire have never really shaken off the stigma, but Rodrigues and Pettitte have clearly moved on and indeed Rodriguez was recently hailed as a hero when the Yankees won their 27th World Series.

Tiger’s unfortunate accident came two days after the National Enquirer published a story alleging that he had been seeing a New York night club hostess, Rachel Uchitel, but she promptly denied such an affair when questioned by Associated Press.

Like Woods though, she too has subsequently appointed a lawyer to act as a go-between herself and the media.

“It’s his privilege not to address the other innuendoes and reports that have surfaced over the last three or four days,” says Steve Rosner, co-founder of 16W Marketing. “But by not addressing them, I believe he has set up a situation where the story will continue to be the story.”

“I’m not sure it’s his moral responsibility to the general public to say every bit of what’s going on,” Rosner added. “But I personally don’t think it’s going to go away now because he did not address the rumors and innuendoes of the reports about his personal life.”

The truth always comes out, PRO expert, Mike Paul, the founder and president of MGP & Associates PR, told Golf International I-Mag.

“Evading an issue,” he says, “will only encourage people to dig further, to find evidence of what they assume or suspect to be true.

Besides, it’s a little too late to plead for privacy, Paul said.

Paul added that in establishing himself as one of the world’s best known and highest paid professional athletes, Woods must realise he owes it to his fans to treat them respectfully and give them answers, “even when they’re embarrassing, deeply personal or concern matters ordinary people would never be asked to discuss”.

“When your fans are asking questions, you have to answer them,” Paul insists.

“They will not stop asking it until they get an answer.”

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