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The Tiger Woods apology: a matter of authenticity

It looked sincere, it sounded sincere, but only actions over time will give it the ring of authenticity.

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An apology requires the ring of authenticity in order to be believed. Standing before a lone camera Friday, in front of friends, family, colleagues, and literally millions of television viewers around the world, a somber and somewhat nervous-looking Tiger Woods sounded sincere. But will his words of contrition and promises be believed? 

That’s the challenge with celebrity apologies carried out in a highly public fashion. Fallen politicians, sports and religious figures, corporate giants and Hollywood types – many of them roll out highly scripted mea culpas. They consult communications experts on the art of the apology, which in turn sows doubt about sincerity.

Akio Toyoda’s apology about his company’s car defects, to name a recent example, was choreographed. But Toyota’s corporate chief also came across as sincere. His body language (the bow, the grim face), his verbal language (the humble acceptance of personal responsibility, the admission of serious mistakes, the promise of reform), his actions (recalling millions of automobiles, admission of further Toyota design flaws, willingness to testify before Congress) – those all point to sincerity.

Similarly, the golf great appeared deeply sorry for a string of extramarital affairs that sullied his reputation, shocked and disappointed his colleagues and fans, and, most distressingly, deeply wounded his family.

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