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Thursday, March 11, 2010
Updated: March 12, 6:11 PM ET
Fleischer PR won't rebuild Tiger's image

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

Ari Fleischer
The new face of Tiger Woods' empire? Ari Fleischer will be handling public relations.

Ari Fleischer?

The best Tiger Woods could do is hire the guy who orchestrated Mark McGwire's bungled re-entry into baseball? The guy who shills for the galactically stupid and indefensible BCS? The guy who counseled the Green Bay Packers on how to deal with their Brett Favre divorce proceedings?

And now Fleischer, the former White House press secretary for George W., reportedly is overseeing Woods' return to golf and all that comes with it. What a mistake.

From the Ari Fleischer Sports Communication Web site: Let us help you gain control over the way you deliver your message with comprehensive instruction for each point of contact with the media.

Yes, that's what Woods needs right now. He needs to be programmed more! Let's load him up with comprehensive instruction and deliver him to America. You won't know whether it's Tiger or an Audio-Animatronic at the Hall of Presidents.

When is Woods going to realize that he's in this hot mess because, (A) He had zipper-control issues and (B) He was disconnected from reality and thought he was bullet-proof? Rehab for sexual addiction has begun to address A, but solving the B part comes from within, not from a PR firm.

Woods doesn't need to be managed, especially by someone who appears to think the BCS is a brilliant idea. He doesn't require advice from the same person who signed off on McGwire's delusional steroids-didn't-help-me-hit-home-runs explanation.

You rebuild your reputation through trust. You earn trust by the depth and quality of your actions. This isn't about image. At least, it shouldn't be. Image is shallow, superficial, a facade.

Fleischer's firm says it has a "wide range of specialized media services tailored to your specific requirements." The services include Image Management and Crisis Management -- as if they were something you could order from a catalog. But Woods' image was vaporized by the details of his infidelity. No amount of PR magic dust is going to make it reappear.

Woods apologized to the world a few weeks ago at Sawgrass and essentially laid down the ground rules for future media encounters. He said he wouldn't discuss the status of his marriage and placed an iron curtain between his public and private life. I would have done the same.

But at some point he's going to have to step in front of a microphone and answer questions. I'm not talking about mistress questions (they've all had their 15 minutes, haven't they?) or square groove questions (zzzzzzzz). And I don't need or want the details of his sex rehab treatment or of his marriage counseling.

Tiger Woods
How will Tiger Woods handle the next round of questions, which will be his first round of questions?

Instead, here are the 10 questions that matter to me:

• Tiger, what is your exact relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, a Canadian sports medicine specialist who is under investigation by federal authorities for possibly supplying athletes with performance-enhancing drugs?

• Have you been contacted and/or interviewed by federal investigators regarding Galea?

• What was the nature of the treatments Galea prescribed for you, and why would you enlist the services of a doctor whose reputation would attract the attention of U.S. and Canadian investigators?

• Did you suffer injuries in the November 2009 car crash near your home and if so, did they require surgery (cosmetic or otherwise) and will they affect your ability to play golf?

• What was your reasoning in waiting so long to respond publicly?

• What is the difference between the Tiger Woods of this past November and the Tiger Woods of this March?

• Will the events and personal aftershocks of the last four months affect the way you play, the way you interact with fans and the way you conduct yourself on the course?

• What is the lesson to be learned by what happened to you?

• Why should anyone take you seriously as a role model?

• Why return now?

Woods owes us at least this much. More importantly, he owes us sincere, non-spin-control answers that come from the heart, not from the legal pad of Fleischer. He owes us something as basic as the truth.

Given his history as a control freak, especially when it comes to answering difficult, sensitive questions, this isn't going to be easy for Woods. But he spent his entire professional career being managed by others -- how'd that turn out, Tiger? -- so maybe it's time to consider alternative methods.

It won't be fun, but it could be liberating. No one is expecting Woods to instantly become as accessible or cooperative as Padraig Harrington, or as Twitter-happy as Stewart Cink. But it would be refreshing to see him working the tournament ropes the way Phil Mickelson does during a tournament. He could reach out instead of curling up.

The days of Woods' unquestioned rule are done. He might dominate golf once again, but he and his managers no longer can dictate how he'll be treated by the media and the public. Automatic deference is a thing of the past.

Weeks ago, Woods asked us to believe in him again. He now has an opportunity, whenever and however he returns to golf, to show us he has changed.

Ignoring the PR flacks would be a nice start.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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