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sean dreilingerThis week, Tiger Woods’ college girlfriend defended her Stanford sweetheart by talking to Sports Illustrated and golf.com reporter, Alan Shipnuck.

As I read Irene Folstrom’s take on Tiger during their time as motivated college students with many of the same dreams that others enjoy, I was reminded of the huge public and private responsibility that athletes take on when they turn pro. Even coaches face this problem when they get that first big job, especially if they break onto the scene as the anticipated savior of their sport.

Folstrom’s memories of Woods is quite a contrast to what we’ve read and heard about the famous professional golfer in the last five months, if not 10 years. She talks about wistful talks about the future and the way each were grateful to receive free desserts at a Chinese restaurant that they frequented, the complimentary part being a big deal for a couple of college students.

While she said that she had no insight into Woods’ seemingly insatiable lifestyle, she emphasized that the person she knew felt enormous pressure to live up to his future billing, all the while emphatic about his goals to make a positive difference in the world. As far as his current story line, she said that Woods has apologized, and she hopes the caring man she knew gets a second chance to reclaim the love and glory he knew only months ago.

So what could make a starry-eyed college athlete with dreams of the future find public and private humiliation? Unless we’ve walked in his or her shoes, we’ll never know.

richcianciAs a publicist, I tell people that when they seek public attention for their businesses, products or personas that in doing so, they accept the responsibilities and knowledge that it could lead to great things and demands on their time. Their daily fight for fame also makes them consciously liable for falls that may be harder than steel rods on concrete.

Fame is a double-edged sword for athletes as talented at Woods. It obviously can come at a price. With him, it was first the pressure to compete with the greats, which he continues to accept with vigor. It is also the pressure to be the perfect husband, father and pitchman. Whether it was the weight of all of these things that caused his life to publicly and privately spiral out of control, we may never know. Woods’ desire to remain an intensely private person, however, became impossible the day he signed multi-million dollar endorsement deals with public companies and draped his first Green Jacket around his shoulders.

The only way an athlete, executive or coach can avoid a fall from grace is to exhibit self-control like he or she may have never in life. It’s part of a basic public relations plan. It may be the greatest challenge he or she ever accepts, but it could him or her save face in the end.

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Image by sean dreilinger

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