Tiger Woods & Charlie Sheen – Is There A Double Standard?

(Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

(Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Tiger Woods cheats on his wife – reportedly with many different women – and the world’s greatest golfer loses millions of dollars in endorsements, suffers great public humiliation, has taken an indefinite break from his sport and may be facing a divorce.

Charlie Sheen is arrested for allegedly threatening his wife with a knife, spends Christmas Day in a Colorado jail, and must return to court in February to face domestic violence and second-degree assault charges. Sheen’s Hanes underwear commercials continued to air in heavy rotation the weekend following his widely-publicized arrest, his popular sitcom, Two and a Half Men, got solid ratings on Monday night and his wife, Brooke, wants to get back together..

“Two and Half Men is not going to be One and a Half Men anytime soon,” said Shari Ann Brill of the media buying firm Carat USA.”I don’t think it’s going to be an issue unless the numbers plummet and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

You have to wonder if these two bad boys of the moment being held to a different standard when it comes to their treatment by advertisers, the media and the public.

As far as we know, Tiger broke his marriage vows but no laws and yet the man who is thought to make a whopping $100 million in endorsement income is suddenly a liability to companies that counted on his wholesome image as an athlete and a family man to enhance their image and add handsomely to their bottom line.

Some wasted no time in distancing themselves from the golfer including global consulting firm Accenture PLC and Gatorade. while the luxury watch company Tag Heur is scaling back its association with its one-time golden boy. But it gets worse: a study released this week estimated that $12 billion in market value may be lost at nine of Tiger’s endorsement partners, including American Express and AT&T.

“You go back to your conference room and discuss whether the person still fits with what you are doing,” said Abbie Fink,  vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix. “With Tiger, he is suffering [a loss of endorsements] in the short-term but there are some companies that are willing to wait and see what happens. It’s a risk any company or organization takes when they use someone well-known as a spokesperson.” 

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While Tiger has been seen on television plenty over the past month, it’s been on news, sports and entertainment shows and almost exclusively related to the scandal that erupted on Nov. 27 when the golfer drove into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home. Within a few days, stories of his marital difficulties and infidelity were the top story and his commercials for various products disappeared from the air.

As of this week, Sheen has not been dropped by Hanes. The actor has appeared alongside retired NBA star Michael Jordan in spots that have been airing for about two years now. As far as fans of Two and a Half Men are concerned, Sheen’s arrest seems to be a non-issue at least for now. Ratings for this week’s episode of the show – a rerun – was more than 11 million viewers which is considered solid for the week between Christmas and New Years.

Why is Sheen not being shunned?

“It’s domestic, there’s talk of reconciliation and he appears to be contrite,” said Brill. “I think maybe that’s what makes it different from [Woods]. People see cheating as worse than having a fight with your spouse. It shouldn’t be that way because domestic violence is very serious. In either case, a lot of it is speculative. We don’t know what really happened.”

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Public relations expert Michael Levine thinks the show’s ratings might even grow when new episodes begin airing in January.

“Controversy is the mother’s milk of great success in contemporary society,” he said.

Andre Agassi’s one-time catch phrase “Image is everything” could also explain why Tiger is being dealt with more harshly.

“Sheen has a pretty poor public record over a period of time and people know he’s had a challenging public life,” said Levine. “Then you have Tiger Woods who had a very pristine and clear record prior to this.”

Sheen is alleged to have put a knife to his wife’s throat and threatened to kill her. He denies it.

The actor who came to fame in the 80s in such films as Platoon and Wall Street, has at least a few decades of trouble behind him. In 1990, his then-girlfriend Kelly Preston was accidentally shot by his gun. Eight years later, he injected himself with cocaine and was hospitalized due to an overdose. His father, Martin Sheen, made a public appeal to his son and the younger Sheen checked into rehab. He was also revealed as a frequent client of former Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss.

Sheen’s second wife, actress Denise Richards, filed for divorce in 1995 while pregnant with their second child. In court papers that were leaked to the media,  Richards alleged that Sheen abused drugs and alcohol and threatened her with violence. They also engaged in an acrimonious custody dispute over their two daughters but seem to have made peace.

Rather than become a showbiz pariah, Sheen has thrived professionally despite his off-screen troubles. Even his sitcom character of Charlie Harper is loosely based on his own bad boy image.

Said PR expert Fink: “This isn’t the first time Charlie’s gotten in trouble. He tends to find himself in the news for things like this on a fairly regular basis. Maybe we have become a little immune to it?”

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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