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Brennan Assesses Tiger Woods’ Apology, U.S. Olympic Domination So Far

February 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Tiger Woods made a public apology for marital infidelity in Florida on Friday. Also, U.S. athletes lead the overall medal count going into the second week of the Winter Olympics with big wins for Evan Lysacek and Lindsey Vonn this week. Jeffrey Brown speaks with USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan in Vancouver.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally tonight: two big stories from the world of sports: golfer Tiger Woods and the Olympics.

Jeffrey Brown has our look, starting with Woods.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tiger Woods broke nearly three months of silence today with public apologies to his wife, fans, friends, and sponsors.

TIGER WOODS, professional golfer: I want to say to each of you simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.

I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable.

JEFFREY BROWN: Revelations of Woods’ private life had erupted after he wrecked his car last Thanksgiving outside his home in Florida.

This morning, the world’s most famous golfer appeared at PGA headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. In a tightly-controlled setting, with no questions allowed, he spoke for roughly 14 minutes to a small group, including his mother.

Woods said all questions about his marriage are between his wife, Elin Nordegren, and himself, except one.

TIGER WOODS: Some people have speculated that Elin somehow hurt or attacked me on Thanksgiving night. It angers me that people would fabricate a story like that.

Elin never hit me that night or any other night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage, ever.

JEFFREY BROWN: Woods said he’s returning to therapy, reportedly at this facility in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He said he’s had 45 days of treatment so far, and learned this much already.

TIGER WOODS: Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.

JEFFREY BROWN: Several companies, including Accenture and AT&T, have cut their endorsement ties with Woods. One that hasn’t, EA Sports, said today it welcomed his statement.

As for his playing career, Woods said today, “I do plan to return to golf one day. I don’t rule out it will be this year.”

And joining me again is Christine Brennan, a columnist for USA Today and commentator for ABC News and ESPN. She is in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. And we will discuss that more in a moment. But she has also covered golf and Tiger Woods for many years. And that is where we start.

So, Christine, this was a man speaking to a number of audiences today, right, family, the golf world, corporate sponsors, and a huge public.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Oh, absolutely, Jeff. This was the first opportunity to see this — this man we have been discussing nonstop for three months, first time to eyeball him, so to speak.

And it was kind of a remarkable 15 minutes or so, Tiger Woods, someone who we never see in sweats, always put-together, so concerned about his image, here, if this was really true and if it’s all from the heart, at rock bottom. I mean, it was almost breathtaking.

And it’s the — it seems to be the first step in his plan, his journey to start recovering. The fact that everyone has been talking, speculating is — you know, about when he will play golf again. And I think the word golf finally came up in about the 12th minute or so, and just quickly and then brushed aside. I think there’s a real possibility we won’t see him play golf for the entire year, if, in fact, what we heard today is real and true, and that this is as bad as Tiger made it seem to be.

JEFFREY BROWN: You know, for those who don’t follow this, just remind us of what — what is the impact here, the impact a man has on the sport, on the sports world, and what impact has his absence had?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Oh, it’s huge.

You know, Tiger Woods is probably the — well, certainly the most famous athlete on the planet, at least from a U.S. perspective, and right up there as a cultural icon, I think, with the Obamas and Oprah, that big of a star, and so significant of a fall from grace. I think it’s the biggest fall from grace we have ever seen in sports.

Tiger Woods, when he plays in a tournament, the TV rating go up about 50 percent. That means jobs. That means bigger purses. That means grandmothers in Dubuque and Tupelo planning their Sundays around his tee time, so they can sit and watch. He is that big of a crossover star.

So, when Tiger is not around, interest in the game suffers, TV ratings drop, again, like half. And it is almost as if the game has gone dormant until Tiger is playing again. So, this is — this is a very significant loss for the economy of golf, in a tough economy to begin with, of course, with the recession.

And then, as a superstar in sports just disappearing, it’s something that we really have not seen anything quite like this a long time.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this is a man who carefully crafted his image over many years. We mentioned in our setup that corporations, some sponsors have stayed with him, some not. Now it’s a question of somehow getting that image back, I guess, right?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: I guess it is. And I think this is the beginning for him.

He is a control freak, and we saw that today. I — the — kind of dog-and-pony show, from the standpoint of journalists — quote, unquote — “journalists” invited to come and accepting the rules that there would be no questions. Of course, I certainly am thrilled I wasn’t invited, because I would never attend such a thing. I’m sure you wouldn’t either.

So, that was Tiger kind of wanting to control things, and also scheduling this — I know he is supposed to go back into rehab, but scheduling this on a Friday to steal the spotlight from a golf tournament sponsored by Accenture, the big PGA Tour event out in Arizona.

Accenture, of course, is one of the sponsors that dropped Tiger Woods. I couldn’t help but think, Jeff, that this was a stick-it-to-Accenture moment by Tiger Woods.

So, even as he is coming clean, and apologizing profusely, and really laying it out there, as bad as it could get, for him, there still, I think, were glimpses of Tiger Woods, which may be good or bad, depending on how you look at it and how he is recovering.

And it’s that, has he changed? I certainly hope, for his sake, he has. But there were those little moments where I wondered about that.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let’s turn to Vancouver, where you are, and the Olympics — a very impressive few days for American athletes. That must be one of the storylines out there.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Oh, it certainly is, probably the storyline of the week, since the Games began of course now a week ago.

Canada, as you know, has pumped millions of dollars into a campaign called “Own the Podium.” And, right now, their neighbor to the south owns the podium. The United States had its greatest day ever in Winter Olympic history the other day, lead by Lindsey Vonn in the downhill, Shaun White, a few others, winning medals left and right.

The U.S., it just can’t help but win medals right now — Evan Lysacek in men’s figure skating, a very surprising, well-deserved gold medal last evening.

So, the U.S., I think what we’re seeing, Jeff, is Salt Lake City, of course, was the last U.S. Olympics that — that our country hosted, obviously, 2002. And there was a great push to win medals going into the 2002 Games. And, in some sports like Nordic combined, other things that the U.S. has never done well in traditionally, I think that push to 2002 has carried over, and the results are still being seen now eight years later.

So, that is part of the reason I think the U.S. is doing so well.

JEFFREY BROWN: You mentioned the figure skating. I know that is your favorite competition every Olympics, every Winter Olympics. That was quite a shoot-out last night. And I gather that some of the sniping, fighting, what have you, has spilled over and continued.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It has.

You know, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc, the Cold War is still alive and well at the figure skating venue. I know I have said that before. And it is true.

It was the Russian Evgeni Plushenko, the defending Olympic gold medalist, coming back specifically to try to win a second gold medal, and in his way Evan Lysacek, 24-year-old American from the Chicago suburbs, trains in L.A. with Frank Carroll, the venerable coach from the U.S. who has never won — had a skater win an Olympic gold medal.

So, you have got this clash. And it was set up with a very tight score after the short program. And Lysacek beat him, and Lysacek won the Olympic gold medal, a huge surprise. The Russians are not happy about that. They thought this gold medal was theirs.

The judges were 6-3 Eastern Bloc against the West, and I think they thought they had it. But Plushenko made a few mistakes. He is a tough, strong competitor. I mean, he landed jumps that he — that anyone else would have fallen on.

But Evan Lysacek had the complete, total program. And while the Russians are complaining, and Plushenko snuck up to the top of the podium, then went down, in a real lack of sportsmanship, I thought, on his part, towards Lysacek, the — the gold medalist, and said some negative things about Lysacek, saying it is ice dancing out there if you don’t do a quad — Lysacek doesn’t — Plushenko does do the quadruple jump — the reality is that Lysacek had even more athletic content, spins, footwork and jumps, than Plushenko.

So, athlete, artist, yes, but, in this case, the total package was Evan Lysacek, and that is why he is the deserving winner of the gold medal.

JEFFREY BROWN: One more week to go, what do you — what are you looking forward to?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: I think the storyline will be, you know, can the U.S. keep it up? And I think they can. Clearly, in Canada, it is hockey, men’s and women’s. The U.S. women in hockey, I think, could give the Canadian women a go. And the Canadians have been challenged on the men’s side already, so, those things.

And then Lindsey Vonn, can she win another gold medal on the mountain? A few of those things coming up, certainly, but, already, I think Vancouver has righted itself a little bit from the trouble, terrible tragedy and trouble of last weekend, and seems to be in a good place, as the sun is now shining on a beautiful, another beautiful day in Vancouver.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we should say, for our Canadian friends, they did own the podium a few times there this week, didn’t they?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: They did, actually, absolutely.

Canada won its first and actually second medal, gold medal, on home soil, the first time ever. They have had three Olympic Games, and they had never won an Olympic gold medal in Montreal in 76′ or Calgary in 1988.

But they finally got a couple. And they are thrilled. And I don’t blame them. I — as the host country, that is what you want for them. And they are doing a terrific job and — and really, you know, competing quite well. And I think they are certainly going to win some more medals as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Christine Brennan in Vancouver, thanks again. Have a good weekend.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Jeff, thank you very much.