Florida police released the Tiger Woods 911 call Sunday, as Mr. Woods, for the third time in as many days, rebuffed police seeking to investigate the one-car crash that left him unconscious Friday morning.
The 911 call is a static-filled, disjointed conversation in which an anonymous neighbor says he found an apparently unconscious man – never named as Woods – on his front lawn. (Read the transcript here, hear the audio here.)
Woods did address the controversy publicly for the first time, though, with a 180-word statement on his website Sunday. He said the “embarrassing” situation was “his fault,” and that his wife, Elin, acted “courageously.” Police had said earlier that she used a golf club to break a window of the Cadillac Escalade to remove him from the car before police arrived.
Police said the Escalade hit a fire hydrant and a tree in Woods’ neighborhood, causing $5,000 to $8,000 in damage to the car. The air bags did not deploy, suggesting the vehicle was not going fast, and, in their preliminary assessment, police did not believe alcohol was involved.
In his statement, Woods insisted: “This is a private matter, and I want to keep it that way.” He also declined to speak with Florida Highway Patrol troopers Sunday. A patrol spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Woods was not required by law to give a statement, and that a police investigation into the accident would continue regardless.
The silence, however, causes problems for Woods. Perhaps to a greater degree than any other athlete in modern sport, Woods has leveraged his image into a marketing empire.
ESPN The Magazine once estimated that he would earn $6 billion over the arc of his career. He has already earned more than $1 billion – the first athlete ever to do so – thanks in large part to his endorsement deals, according to Forbes.com.
He and his agent, Mark Steinberg, have famously sought to rewrite the marketing rules for Woods. He is not merely a pitch-man for Nike, Gatorade, and American Express, among others, he is a partner for life – a two-way relationship that seeks to infuse a brand with Woods’s indomitable success and enormous charisma, while giving him unusual input.
Yet that relationship is predicated on Woods’ image, which has made him one of the most closely guarded commodities in modern sport. Early in his career, he made unseemly comments about lesbians and black men in an interview with GQ magazine. Since then, he has rarely been heard unscripted.
Woods has said that is because he is boring. But last week’s accident has provided fuel for the web’s chattering classes, who look at the circumstances of a one-car late-night crash with suspicion. To make matters worse, the tabloid The National Enquirer published a story last week alleging that Woods was having an affair with a New York night club hostess, Rachel Uchitel.
Ms. Uchitel has denied the report and is considering legal action, but Woods saw fit to respond to the accusations in his statement.
“Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded, and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible,” he wrote.
Mr. Steinberg told CNN Sunday that Woods has decided not to make any statement at all to the police going forward. So long as that is enough for his sponsors, that could be the end of it – barring any sensational findings by the Florida Highway Patrol.