Did Gillette's Fusion ad doom Tiger Woods?

Sure, a skeptic might say Tiger Woods has created his own downfall through rather prosaic sins of the flesh. But the more mystically inclined agree: It was that Gillette Fusion ad that did him in.

New York Times' writer Robert Mackey thinks the Gillette Fusion "Champions" ad campaign not only cursed Woods, but his two world-class athlete co-stars as well. In the ad, which aired in February 2007, Roger Federer, Thierry Henry and Tiger Woods each walk through a dissipating video image of their greatest accomplishments: for Federer, his win at the 2006 Wimbledon tennis championship; for Henry, his 2003 "Footballer of the Year" soccer award; for Woods, his 2006 Player of the Year honors. Each says something pithy about how the accomplishments of yesterday are nothing, "the only day that matters, is today," says Woods confidently.

Woods's public statements don't sound quite so confident today. Now he's saying things along the lines of: "I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves."

Curses and Consequences

Could the hubris of the sort written by the Gillette creative team really inspire a curse? That's what Mackey says, and lists a great number of "consequences" surrounding the 2007 advertisement. First, there was Henry, who was sidelined with a case of sciatica in November 2006 before the advertisement even ran (but, surely, after he'd agreed to co-star). After months of "hubbub and conjecture," Henry was traded from his longtime club, England's Arsenal, to Barcelona. It wasn't until late 2008 that he started to recover from two years of doldrums.

And this year, though his actions set up a match-winning goal playing for the French National Team against Ireland, he has been disgraced for having used his hands (the referees missed it) and admitting it. According to one sports pundit, his career as "an honest man" has been ruined.

For Federer, the curse first showed up in late 2008, says Mackey. After 237 consecutive weeks holding the number one spot in the ATP rankings, Federer lost in the 2008 Wimbledon tournament to Rafael Nadal, a defeat that was dubbed one of the top five losses of 2008 by USA Today. He came back in early 2009 only to have a truly awful November, losing in his home tournament, the Swiss Indoors, to Serbian Novak Djokovic. He then suffered another defeat in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals to Nikolay Davydenko.

That brings us to Woods. Evidently, his curse also began in 2007, when he tore a ligament in his left knee. He played on the injured leg for 10 months before submitting to arthroscopic knee surgery in April 2008, which put a swift end to his season. He came roaring back in the 2009 season. Through November he had placed first or second nine times out of 17 events, finishing out of the top 10 only three times; only slightly worse than his usual performance.

Surely the proof of this Gillette curse would have been incomplete, ridiculous even, had it not been for the events of the past few weeks. Woods' earnings of $10.5 million this year are a few hundred thousand shy of his best ever. But with the crushing admission of infidelity, especially at the scale and frequency (and all during the infancy of his two little children), the idea of the curse actually starts sounding sensible.

Yes, all three champions -- once positioned by Gillette as legendary athletes whose position on the top of their respective sports was unassailable -- might have recognized the hubris of appearing in an advertisement whose message was "only what we do today, counts." But witnessing each of them fall from grace -- especially Henry and Woods, whose 2009 disgraces have more to do with morality than achievement -- reveals the real truth: these men aren't self-aware enough to recognize their own lack of humility. And this, while illuminated by the Gillette ad, is hardly the fault of their sponsors.
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