I'm not claiming to be able to turn a murderer into a saint, so some celebrities are beyond hope when they do something foul. And I'm not condoning infidelity or anything else that Tiger Woods is accused of doing to get him to this lowpoint in his otherwise charmed life. I'm merely stating that professional careers can be salvaged even when images seem forever doomed to reproach or, worse, ridicule.
First of all, the cover-up is usually worse than the original mischief that they want to hide. The public is traditionally very forgiving for most indiscretions if the guilty party seems honest and truly repentant (and willing to make amends). The worst is denying something and then getting caught in a lie -- it usually mushrooms into a disaster and more facts come out. That's what happened with Tiger.
Celebrities want to have both fame and privacy, but they can't have it 100% both ways. The public responds to sincerity and can usually read phoniness. Famous people facing a problem need to know when to drop the talking points and just speak candidly from the heart.
Other times, they need to learn to shut up. Roger Clemens is a good example when his name came up on the list of Major League Baseball players accused of using performance enhancing drugs. He never was a good public speaker and he kept putting his foot in his mouth. As the story started to die down, he would inexplicably bring it back into the spotlight with more denials, counter-charges, and nonsense. The more he talked, the more unbelievable his shouts of innocence sounded.
If Tiger Woods or Roger Clemens were just victims of bad management in handling their crises, then they should fire their PR advisors. It's tough to find the right people, but if you're at the top of the world one day and a tabloid punchline the next, your PR people don't have control of the situation and you need to find someone better to control the damage.
But let's be honest, what do I know? For the longest time I thought Michael Jackson could rebuild his tarnished image by performing an intimate, "unplugged" concert of acoustic versions of his hit songs, dressed in casual, everyday clothes. He never did. But the phenomenal interest in the King of Pop after his sudden, unexpected death, proved that people loved his talent the way it was -- the dancing and the sound of his voice singing the songs he made famous. His unique style and flambuoyant nature on stage finally overshadowed (not for everyone, but for many) the blemishes to his legacy. Talent wins out.
The lesson learned there (and even I finally learned it only recently) is that the skills that make celebrities tops in their field are the skills that can rescue them from the pits of scandal. Robert Downey, Jr., despite battles with the demons of addiction, is now an A-list actor, respected by critics, fans, and the Hollywood moguls who have faith in him again. Stars have survived sex scandals, vehicular manslaughter, and worse. It can be done.
Some pseudo-celebrities only lucked into fame in the first place, so their fall from grace usually isn't that big a shock and they only rarely can recapture their fifteen minutes of relevance. True superstars can rise to the summit of their careers again and again.
Tiger Woods is the greatest golf player of all time -- unless the mismanagement of this current scandal proves to ruin everything he has achieved, messing up his focus, ruining his game, destroying his endorsement deals, driving away his fans, and eating up the fortune he's accrued, there is no reason to think this madness will permanently be a crack in his armor.
I talk about Tiger Woods' career and his public reputation, but don't forget that little thing called his marriage -- behind the public scandal is a private life. Maybe the disclosure of all the skeletons in his closet will actually serve some good and make him stronger and wiser. Hopefully Tiger can learn from his mistakes and come out of this nightmare a better person in all regards. If nothing else, as Carrie Underwood would say, maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.