Why is the new Nike ad with a downcast yet proudly resilient Tiger Woods hearing the voice of his dead father making me so furious? It defies logic. After all, we just came through a week during which we saw film footage of the US military taking part in what is being called "collateral murder." Death threats have been sent to Democratic members of Congress by right wing lunatics for the crime of passing a healthcare bill that could have been penned by Mitt Romney. And then take Pope Benedict and his Catholic defenders. Seriously. Please take them. I’d suggest somewhere hot.
In the context of our enduring global fever-dream, a tacky ad in which Nike and Tiger conspire to exploit the memory of Earl Woods is hardly that big a deal–particularly since if Earl Woods were alive, he would have supported this exercise in grave robbing 100 percent. But the idea that Tiger and Nike would see the incredible turmoil that has engulfed Tiger’s life as an opportunity to rebrand Tiger and sell us more swoosh-laden crap is simply sickening. Every single member of the golf media and every fan who has felt sympathy for his self-destructive plight should feel like a grade-A sucker. Every person impressed with his professed recommitment to the Buddhist faith and his family should be deeply offended that it was all just a springboard aimed at cashing in. And every golf fan and pro golfer should be furious that he’s shellacked another layer of controversy onto the most prestigious tournament on the tour, the Masters at Augusta.
There is a small part of me delighted that Tiger’s awful ad will further cloud an event whose history of segregation and exclusion would even give pause to our Confederate Governnor of Virginia, "Robert E." McDonnell.
But any joy at the discomfort of grown men with ten figure bank accounts named Hootie and Billy is outpaced by the sheer cultural rock bottom that this ad represents, not to mention what it says about Woods himself.
I really believed that in the wake of his Odyssey of scandal and humiliation, there would be a showdown inside Tiger’s soul between the brand and the man. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There is no man, only brand. If he wants to dehumanize himself on his own time then more power to him. But this ad dehumanizes all of us. One thing however is abundantly clear: If Tiger loses this weekend, Nike loses as well. Neither deserve to make the cut, on the course or otherwise. Tiger the brand has now wholly consumed Tiger the man.
[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing [email protected]. Contact him at [email protected].]