Tiger’s Shadow

I think this is a genius ad. Obviously, this is not really going to inspire to folks to run out and buy Nike products but I’m not sure that was the purpose of the ad. It serves as a sort of palette cleanser and a profound one at that. Often times when we assess a fallen figure, the conventional impulse is to run away and shun them as if we are incapable of comprehending how they could do such a thing. But in reality what we are really running away from is our own shadow, a recognition that whatever is inside Tiger that drove him to act out is also in us. This is why these kinds of stories are so interesting to us. We love nothing more to deny our own shadow while projecting it onto others who got caught. While I’m not applauding Nike for their altruistic faithfulness to Tiger, who’s been dropped by all of his other corporate partnerships. Obviously they have something to lose in dropping him. But this ad signals to me that they understand this very aspect of what I’m talking about.

I’m rooting for Tiger but I’m rooting for him as a man and not a golfer. The reality is is that often times our greatest quality as a human being inevitably comes with this shadow side. Our greatest strengths clear the way for our greatest weaknesses. For Tiger, his mental focus, his ability to shut the world out and employ laser-like concentration has been something to behold. But in the shadow that it casts is found a predisposition for compartmentalization which, in turn, can give way to living a deeply divided life. I would presume that Tiger is wrestling with this very tension in his therapy and as he learns to take down some of these walls that have divided up his life, he also may lose some of his capacity to focus on the golf course as well as he has in the past. It’s very possible that the more successful Tiger is in dealing with this shadow element, the more his golf game could suffer. It’s not that he can’t be a fantastic golfer and a fantastic husband and father. But if he seeks balance then his golf game will inevitably take a bit of a hit.

While not all of us have made the kinds of mistakes Tiger has made, we all deal with this very tension. Living a life of balance is an extremely difficult, and it’s even more difficult for those who are blessed (or cursed) with possessing extraordinary talent.

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4 thoughts on “Tiger’s Shadow

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Particularly your assessment of his ability to compartmentalize and the desire to root for him as a man rather than a golfer. Both of which I agree with.

    I also think it’s a ballsy, beautiful piece of storytelling. The spot is profound, clever and ruthlessly simple. It’s rare that so many layers of meaning can be universally understood in :30. It’s the power of a good ad, I suppose and a testament to the creative team at Wieden + Kennedy (Nike’s ad agency in Portland).

    This spot reminds me of the famous account of Ernest Hemingway being asked to write a short story in 6 words. He wrote, “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” Few words, big meaning.

    Art aside, I’m afraid the spot is a shameless use of Earl Woods’ memory. America’s soft spot for Tiger originated with his relationship with his dad. The infamous closeness and imagery of father-son golf was a lot of what set-up that wholesome persona to begin with. Sadly, Tiger is a brand as much as he is a man in our cultural consciousness and that brand needs rebuilding. His people (and especially his sponsors) are less concerned with his return to wholeness and more concerned with his return to profitability. When times get tough, brands return to their historical strength – for Tiger that’s the archetype of him as his father’s son.

    At the end of the day, as much as I respect the creative, I think the spot is a perversion of his father’s memory to regain some likability and recover his Q score. But on the other hand, who can ever really know what someone’s intentions are?

    So net-net: good for Nike for putting a piece of creative into the world capable of provoking such dialogue. Capable of inspiring such response (both challenging and skeptical). And impressive they got him to sign off on the ad.

    A lot of people will attribute the great storytelling with a great character. I’m just not sure that’s what’s really going on here.

    Sheesh – a career in advertising makes one cynical, eh?

    • Elizabeth,

      That maybe the case but, in the end, right or wrong, the protectors of Earl Woods’ legacy are his wife and son and I’d be really surprised if they were both in any way disapproving of the use of this audio of Earl. Also, the other side to this ad is that Earl Woods was known to have some shady relationships with women in his own past and if that is the case, then this makes the ad all the more powerful, in my opinion.

  2. This add stopped me in my tracks this weekend. I replayed it over and over on Tivo. I called my father and my wife into the room to watch it. It really is a stunning ad.

    I like your suggestion about the “shadow” side. I remember reading the book, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, in seminary and your comments ran true with the insights of that book.

    But there is something else here. Maybe I can’t quite touch it verbally. But there is something about a dead father speaking to his son from the grave that is….I guess… “inspiringly” haunting. If I can guess….maybe the add presents a symbol of perhaps what we all hope the Spirit, the counselor, the comforter might say or ask us if we listened hard to his voice in times of our own failures. Above all the other voices in Tigers ears, those of condemnation, shame and blame….there is one voice, the voice of an unconditionally loving father who desires not punishment but growth or restoration that remains paramount in his soul. I’m thankful he has that. Wouldn’t we all desire that?

    If we can back away for a second from the media’s portrayal of the context surrounding the specifics of who we think Tiger Woods is and why he has reportedly acted as he has, whether inaccurate or spot on….is it possible to hear the Spirit of grace reaching out to him through his earthly father’s love? Isn’t that exactly what he needs? And what we all seek?

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