The Price of Poor Ethics: Rory versus Tiger

Darren Rovell, the excellent Sports Business reporter for wrote an interesting article on the current marketability of golfer Rory McIlroy verses Tiger Woods.

Tiger WoodsRovell quotes a Sports Business Daily survey of 43 marketing firms. Tiger now ranks third in marketability behind McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.

Justification and complication

There are many possible arguments in place for why Tiger has slipped. He is older, that is true, so he doesn’t appeal as much to a younger generation. He was injured and had surgery. His skills have slipped, and it’s no secret he has dropped in rankings; 111th, in fact. Tiger hasn’t won a major in seven years. So we can justify almost any slip in rankings by factors that Tiger can’t control. Athletes get injured; their skills decline; some never make it back.

However in his article Rovell mentions the “extramarital affairs scandal.” In fact, many articles and references to Woods do not seem to want to let the incident go, even though the scandal broke in 2009. There is no great need for me to dredge up the infidelities except to say our bad choices follow us around like an albatross. Tiger has not fully lost his.

I am not weeping for Tiger; he is still making huge amounts of money. He is divorced now, but he has a steady relationship; he is raising his children responsibly and ethically. I am not the kind of person to say that a man or woman does not deserve second chances. He does and I hope he makes the most of his.

But Tiger Woods is a special case. He was so dominant, so famous and so well-known, that even in slipping, he maintained his name and popularity even though he is still connected to his scandal. He is making a lot less, that is true but I just read that he’s designing a golf course in Beijing to the tune of $16.5 million so he won’t be worried about whether to crack open a can of beans as opposed to a can of tuna for dinner this evening.

Then I wondered about professional athletes who are incredible but who are not wealthy, not automatically associated with their sports and who have made bad choices. Many of them fall off the radar and are not to be seen again or are a shadow of their former selves in terms of endorsement value: Ray Rice, Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, Barry Bonds, and Floyd Landis.

Making bad choices is not just an image problem, it is a dollars and cents problem.

Making a second bad choice could wipe out the value of an athlete altogether.

The antidote

Athletes often go to spin doctors, spending tens of thousands of dollars to rehabilitate their images. I am skeptical of such a strategy. Oh sure, it makes a lot of money for the spin doctor and may marginally help the athlete, but I maintain that Sports Ethics training is a far better and far more effective way to go.

Unless an athlete, coach or even team works on the underlying causes of unethical behavior, it is almost a guarantee that the problem will appear and re-appear over and over. “Spin” can only cover behaviors for so long. In today’s environment of social media and surveillance, poor choices will surface no matter how much money a team or athlete throws against continuing poor choices.

I believe Sports Ethics training to be a better way. I believe that we all make better choices with ethics training. Ultimately, it is not about Rory versus Tiger; it is about Tiger versus himself.




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