by Peter H. Lederman, Esq.
Published in the New Jersey Law Journal on June 19, 2017
Sports heroes have fallen from grace before. What kid didn’t worship Mickey Mantle, as he lifted the Yankees on so many occasions to World Championships with his tape measure home runs, slick fielding and batting average. Who knew that behind that All-American smile was an almost unquenchable thirst for whiskey which contributed to his early demise. “The Mick“ famously reflected “if I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself”. Ultimately, years of alcohol abuse did what opposing pitchers could not do in stopping Mantle.
Then, there was Lance Armstrong, another incredibly great athlete who dominated the world of professional cycling by winning seven consecutive Tour de France races. He was an American who dominated a grueling sport that was distinctly not American on the greatest stage of world cycling. His fall from grace was not from alcohol but performance enhancing drugs, which after admitting using, led to a lifetime ban ending his competitive career.
There are many more similar stories. But few have our attention these days as that of Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. Thought by many as the greatest professional golfer of all time and one of the highest paid athletes in the world, he captured the imagination not only of golfers, but people who never struck a golf ball in vain. He made shots that no one could make, trained and looked like a professional football player and played the game with a laser focus that few could approach. He was and remains the face of golf around the world.
Unfortunately, it may be another face of Tiger Woods that becomes the lasting image of this great athlete. It is the face of a man photographed for his mug shot in the Jupiter, Florida police station after his arrest for Driving While Intoxicated. This was not the face we have come to know with that wide smile that accompanied trophy presentation after another championship win. Looking tired, worn and drawn, this face was certainly not the winning face we had come to know so well.
Obviously, this story hit the news like a bad hurricane devastating the Jersey Shore. It was a schadenfreude event like few others. One who was so great at his sport and so successful at acquiring wealth and whatever else he desired, was just another man in the cross hairs of a DWI investigation. For the moment, a god had become ordinary. He could have been any one of my clients who probably won’t win anything in life. And there he was on mobile video recording, doing the same field sobriety tests “…follow my light with your eyes only, walk nine steps heel to toe on the line, hold your foot up six inches in the air for thirty seconds, recite the alphabet, count backwards”. That could be anyone caught in the same situation. But he wasn’t, which is exactly the point.
The man Tiger measures himself against, Jack Nicklaus, immediately came to Tiger’s defense. Nicklaus, the only golfer to win more Majors than Tiger, was quick to tell reporters that Tiger “…needs a lot of support from a lot of people and I’ll be one of them”. Jim Furyck, Woods’ partner on the Rider Cup, told the press that Tiger was having a “tough time” recovering from back surgery. Matt Kuchar, another of Tiger’s competitors, was quoted as saying that, “we don’t know what happened and we don’t know what’s happening to his back. I think we all just want to see him get back to being healthy and playing golf again”. Golfer Bill Haas stated that Tiger was dealing with, “a lot. People jump to conclusions. A lot of them are wrong.”
Perhaps Bubba Watson said it all. Bubba is quoted as saying, “look, we all have our dark places and Tiger is human, which everyone seems to forget. I think we’re all concerned for a friend and we would want to help him in any way we could. Whatever the cause of what happened to him, we just want him to get better.”
It is great that Tiger has friends who are concerned for his wellbeing, recovery and his ultimate success. But very few people, arrested after the same field sobriety tests and roadside investigations have the tangible support of so many others. So many “ordinary people” lacking the friends of someone like Tiger, walk it alone. No one is there to remind others that “we all have dark places” and come forward to help. How many people will reassure, that whatever caused this, we just want you to get better, when the person recorded on the MVR is not Tiger Woods.
The truth is that our system is punitive and vindictive. There is no grace, no forgiveness, no alternate resolution even when defendants find their way from a “dark place”. Our system of laws burns a tattoo from conviction that will profoundly affect the life of the person charged. It does not encourage others to step forward to lend a helping hand. Sadly, it does not encourage the defendant either.
Of course, there must be a place for punishment in DWI cases. But it seems to this practitioner, that all else is lost in the belief that severe punishment is the only real answer to the problem of substance abuse and vehicle operation. Reward those who recover. Encourage their friends and loved ones to step forward. Offer the carrot with the stick. Bring us back from the “dark places” without sending us to another!
Reprinted with permission from the June 19, 2017 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal© 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
FOLLOW-UP: AUG 2017 Tiger’s DUI has been in the national news – and this article by Golf Digest. goo.gl/oJXyE4 Peter’s comment on the Golf Digest article:
“this is the type of program that many states have and that new jersey needs…the lack of such a program prevents a prosecutor and judge from shaping remedies that benefit the community, and defendant, based upon the actual facts and circumstances of each case…”