Fly in the Ointment: Tiger Woods

Today, Tiger Woods posted a video of a range session. It is the first time people have seen him swing a club since his car accident in February 2021 from which he sustained terrible leg injuries. It has been a long recovery and fans have been anxiously anticipating the first sign that his career might continue; the video has been met with praise and celebration. For me, it was a reminder that something doesn’t feel right. Watch as I fly into the proverbial ointment.

I am a big Tiger Woods fan. I love golf and he is my favorite golfer. His career has been legendary, and he smashed the perception that golf is boring or that it is only for old, unathletic people. Tiger was young, broad-shouldered, creative, and fiercely competitive. His swing was poetry in motion and his classic “Sunday Red” attire became a symbol for stoicism and victory. I watched every minute of the 2008 US Open, as he fought through what was essentially a broken leg to beat Rocco Mediate on Sunday evening in a playoff. After many of his shots he would collapse to the ground in agony. Up until February 2021, he continued to be one of the most watched golfers even though he was no longer highly ranked.

I think a lot of people feel similarly about Tiger, and it seems like people are overlooking a lot of the details about Tiger and the car crash.

  • Woods had back surgery a month before to remove a disc fragment, but it is unclear if he was on pain killers. (ESPN)
  • Woods was arrested for driving under the influence in 2017 when he was found asleep, in his car on the highway after what he described as an “unexpected reaction to pain medications”. This was following a serious spinal fusion back surgery. He had a prescription for Vicodin, but it is not clear if that prescription was related to his back surgery. (Stat)
  • The black box in his car shows that his accelerator was being applied at 99% during the collision. This indicates that he was either asleep, purposefully driving dangerously, or, as Los Angeles Sheriff’s Capt. James C. Powers believes, had mistakenly applied the accelerator instead of the brake. This is slightly confounded by the fact that Woods says he does not remember the crash itself. At the first impact (they do not specify what he hit first), he was travelling at 84-87 mph, and at 75mph when he finally hit a tree. The black box indicates that the accelerator was floored throughout all of that. (Fox News)
  • There was a very half-hearted investigation to see if he was under the influence at the time of the crash. There was no effort to draw blood at the hospital. And he “seemed like he wasn’t under the influence”. (NY Times)

If I had to put money on what happened, I would guess that Tiger was either tired (he had been driving around and filming) or on pain killers, (or a combination of both), fell asleep briefly, and crashed his car. There are other possible scenarios, but, for the reasons illustrated above, I do not find those other scenarios compelling. From what I have read, it would have been hard to bring charges against Woods since it is difficult to prove negligent driving, and there was almost no motivation to do so since Tiger was the only victim. It seems odd to me that there was no toxicology report requested by police and feels a little bit like turning one’s gaze because it is Tiger Woods.

I feel like a bit of a curmudgeon writing about this, but in my gut, it feels like we are all getting away with something and we shouldn’t be. Tiger Woods is a treasure to many people, but he isn’t that way to everyone. To all the people who are apathetic to Tiger Woods, this might look like leniency or preferential treatment. This is why justice must be blind. We must consistently enforce laws regardless of how special the perpetrator or the victim is to us otherwise we delegitimize our justice systems and destroy trust in one of our most critical institutions. Am I making a big fuss out of something that was not a big deal? Maybe, but I think we can all recognize that trust is one of those things that takes a lot of effort to build and requires very little effort to destroy.

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