Celebrity “Disgrace Insurance” Lives Up to Its Name

There’s a reported rise in policies guarding against bad behavior by star pitchmen. But can you really put a premium on a squeaky clean image at a time when being bad sells?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Tiger gives his first two interviews since his cheating scandal broke. (Published Thursday, Jun 30, 2011)

    In his latest act of public self-flagellation, published as the anniversary of his Thanksgiving plunge into the rough approaches, Tiger Woods ruminates on how his life has changed.

    “I’m not the same man I was a year ago,” he wrote in an essay for Newsweek. “And that’s a good thing.”

    The piece, depending on your take, might come across either as genuine introspection from a man humbled – or as an advertisement of sorts crafted by a shamed athlete (or his handlers) set on rebuilding his image (and marketability) as much as his life.

    We’ll note that Woods’ public meditation came a day after The Independent reported a growing interest by companies in so-called disgrace insurance designed to protect against celebrity endorsers enveloped by scandal. The piece, of course, credits part of the bet hedging to the sordid case of the golf superstar whose fall from grace cost him, according to CNBC’s estimate, up to $30 million in endorsement earnings.

    Disgrace insurance, practical concerns aside, seems an exercise in cynicism. The renewed interest in the coverage also is a sign of a celebrity culture bound to commerce both more tightly and tenuously than ever amid a star-obsessed press ready to tee off on stars-gone-bad.

    But can you really put a premium on a squeaky clean image at a time when being bad sells?

    Some public figures we almost want – or at least expect – to exhibit less than model manners. The appeal of the pseudo celebrities of the world, like Snookie, seems to rest primarily in their penchant for acting foolish.

    Other cases are less clear-cut. Hanes stopped showing commercials starring Charlie Sheen after his arrest on domestic violence charges last year. But CBS stuck by him even after his recent meltdown at New York's Plaza Hotel, which might actually have helped boost the ratings of “Two and a Half Men.”

    Mel Gibson probably won’t be getting work – even commercials – any time soon as evidenced by the scrapping of his planned cameo in “The Hangover 2” (just imagine the disgrace insurance rates he would command).

    The jury’s out on Lindsay Lohan, a troubled young woman who has been used by those around her for much of her 24 years. She just got booted from playing star-crossed “Deep Throat”-star Linda Lovelace (director Matthew Wilder reportedly cited “the impossibility of insuring her”). But some clearly want to benefit from her notoriety – PETA reportedly promised to pay for her stint at the Betty Ford Center if she promoted veganism, while a porn operation pledged to foot the bill if she became its “marketing consultant.”

    With some stars, it seems, we demand perfection – particularly with athletes, even if history shows that some faces on the Wheaties box in decades past took their cornflakes with gin.

    News of Brett Favre’s texting scandal brought reports of possible endorsement deal losses. Hertz executives, no doubt, wish they had a time machine and could travel back two decades and take some disgrace insurance out on the once-beloved O.J. Simpson.

    Charles Barkley and Nike played off unrealistically high expectations for star athletes and their inherit marketability with the controversial “I am not a role model” ads for Nike in the early 1990s.

    Times have changed as evidenced by Woods’ attempts to transform himself into a role model for a comeback from humiliation. We’re watching him go through some kind of bizarre 12-step public rehabilitation program where he seems to be stuck on making amends as he works his way back to becoming a viable pitchman.

    We’re still creeped out by the Nike commercial that accompanied his return to the golfing circuit in April in which Woods stared solemnly at the camera as the voice of his later father, Earl, intoned: “I want to find out what your thinking was.”

    Sounds like words straight out of the mouth of a disgrace insurance claims adjuster.

    Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.