Nike's New Tiger Woods Ad is Controversial... And Right

Nike / Twitter - Tiger Woods -
Nike / Twitter - Tiger Woods -

Tiger Woods finally regained his world number-one ranking this week, and Nike celebrated with an ad proclaiming, in Woods' own words, that "winning takes care of everything."

The ad was immediately controversial, with many critics saying that the ad implies that Woods' past sins -- he admitted to serial infidelity in 2009 -- are wiped away now that he's winning again. But isn't that basically true?

Tiger did indeed fall out of favor with the public after the cheating scandal hit, and as a result he lost many of his endorsement deals. But earlier this month we looked at Tiger's newfound winning touch, and considered the fact that many other athletes have recovered from worse scandals simply by playing well. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, for instance, was linked to a murder and only avoided jail time by testifying against two companions. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, admitted to cheating on his wife and was accused of sexual assault, though the charges were dropped.

Both athletes resumed their dominance of their respective sports, with Bryant winning two NBA championships since the charges were dropped and Lewis capping a hall-of-fame career with a Super Bowl championship. Lewis is now headed for an analyst job at ESPN; Bryant remains popular and largely kept his endorsement deals (including one with Nike).

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Speaking of Tiger's endorsement prospects earlier this month, sports marketing expert Larry McCarthy told us, "We're extremely forgiving of [athletes] like Woods once they continue to play at the level they were at."

Not everyone has forgiven Tiger, as this controversy makes clear. And no one would suggest that his recent string of success somehow absolves him of his personal failings.

But the fact is that athletes are ultimately judged on performance, and barring a truly career-ending scandal -- Oscar Pistorius' murder charge or Lance Armstrong's admission of doping, for instance -- they can always get back in our good graces by performing well on the field.

Nike probably shouldn't have come right out and said so in their ad. And to be fair, the quote in question was initially uttered by Woods when he was asked whether he was preoccupied with his ranking.

But what Nike said was essentially correct: When it comes to sports, winning really does take care of everything.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.