Tiger Woods is back, and so too are his critics.
On Monday, Woods reclaimed his ranking as the world's top golfer for the first time since 2010. Nike, one of his top sponsors, marked the occasion with congratulatory Facebook and Twitter posts declaring, "Winning takes care of everything."
That seemingly innocuous message didn't go over so well. Some complained that the ad was a shameless allusion to — or even endorsement of — Woods' infamous infidelity and divorce. And in an age in which moral and legal transgressions by athletes are quickly forgotten as soon as they start winning, you can see where critics are coming from.
By Tuesday evening, the ad had been retweeted more than 2,600 times, earned 8,500 Facebook likes, and produced nearly 400 comments. While the majority of comments were positive, the ad also incited heated reactions. The message is "disgusting" and "horrible," some commenters said, insisting that they would never buy another Nike product because of it.
"Winning takes care of everything," one Twitter user wryly remarked, "except the marriage & family you destroyed."
"No. Winning does not take care of everything. Nice message that you are sending to children," another respondent wrote on Facebook.
But other commenters were less convinced that the ad was really a double entendre. "That's as ridiculous as saying that their 'just do it' ad made young people go out & screw their brains out," one respondent argued on Facebook.
Nike, for its part, defended the ad as nothing more than an acknowledgment that Woods had returned to form after years of subpar play.
"When asked about his goals such as getting back to No. 1, he has said consistently winning is the way to get there," a Nike spokesperson said in a statement. "The statement references that sentiment and is a salute to his athletic performance."
As many have noted, the offending quote comes from Woods himself. He made that comment last year in response to a question about whether he was intimidated by Rory McIlroy's emergence as a premier golfer. Nike's using it out of context may raise some eyebrows, the company's defenders say, but it was not as if Nike had devised a deliberately loaded quote.
"I can see where people are coming from in terms of Woods' sordid past, but I really don't think that's what Nike had in mind when they released this ad," said CBS' Kyle Porter.
Even if the ad was intended to be harmless, some say Nike should have known to be more careful with its language. In the past year alone, the company has cut ties with Lance Armstrong over his admission of PED use, and dropped sprinter Oscar Pistorius after he was charged with shooting and killing his girlfriend. In Pistorious' case, Nike had previously released an ad calling him "the bullet in the chamber."
If anyone should know winning doesn't take care of everything, it's Nike, which has had to inch away from several famous endorsers who have proved that all too painfully...This makes the 'winning takes care of everything' sentiment even more tone deaf. If anything, we should be backing away cautiously from the typical sports hero worship, not doubling down on it. [New York Times]
Still, others said the controversy was exactly what Nike was going for in the first place. Controversial content is the cornerstone of viral marketing, and ad campaigns like this are designed to draw attention and rile emotions.
"Nike is doing this to get under your skin," says Yahoo's Jay Busbee. "Come on. They knew the sanctimonious types would get upset about this."
The ad has certainly received a great deal of attention. Whether or not Nike knew what it was doing, though, remains far less cut and dry.