Now that Tiger Woods is playing the Masters, here's how TV should cover it
Tiger Woods has once again defied the naysayers, sticking to his own plan for finding redemption after his embarrassing sex scandal -- announcing today he'll play in the Masters golf tournament, scheduled for April 8 to 11 at Augusta National Golf Club.
The announcement countered predictions from many experts after his emotional public apology Feb. 18 that Woods would sit out the season to complete his rehab treatments and give his public image a break.
And his decision -- besides offering lots of opportunities for jokes, given that the Masters is also going to be the first major sports tournament telecast in 3-D (rimshot!) -- also raises another question.
How is sports media going to cover it?
ESPN gets the first two days of play, with CBS taking over for the last two. One spokesman for the sports cable channel was already exulting on Twitter over Woods' decision in the hours after his emailed statement hit -- one day after CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus predicted the golfer's return would be the second-biggest media event of the decade behind President Obama's inauguration.
Here's how I hope journalists handle it:
Don't ignore it -- Commentators can't pretend Woods is coming back out of nowhere. and addressing the momentous nature of his return without excessively downplaying its cause or dwelling on it too much will be one of the biggest challenges broadcast teams face. One thing seems certain; following his apology, the next thing Woods needs to do to gain back his endorsements and public image is to start winning again. All coverage will start and end there.
Don't psychoanalyze him...much -- We've all wasted lots of ink trying to figure out the outrageously public shaming of one of sports' most private stars. I would hate to see every bogie and chipped shot traced back to the minutiae of his scandal. Apart from the stress of facing everyone's expectations, I wonder if woods won't feel more comfortable on a closely guarded golf course, where he can do his thing with a minimum of distraction.
Don't dwell much on the circus -- I was happy to see that not much ink was wasted on the knuckleheads who showed up outside Woods February public statement to wave goofy signs or stand around in bikinis. We've seen the media circus pitch a serious tent around everything connected to Woods' life, and many in the audience seem ready for the show to go home. I'm hoping more traditional journalists help out by ignoring the wackos who will surely show for his first post-scandal competition.
Do take advantage of any opportunity to ask a real question -- Experts are already talking about how tightly controlled the Masters is, how tough press passes are to obtain and how they can be yanked for a long while following a perceived transgression. But I hope that won't keep journalists from trying to pierce that message control to ask honest questions, like: Doesn't this seem a bit soon after rehab to return to the spotlight? Does it feel like his career is riding on a win? Why didn't he wait longer to come back? If Woods somehow lands another green jacket this year, I'm hoping CBS will make the most of any access it may receive.