cat on a hot tin roof

IS THERE ANYTHING WORSE THAN FINDING A SPORTING GIANT HAS FEET OF CLAY? APART, OF COURSE, FROM FINDING THAT A SYSTEM OF JUSTICE ISN’T JUST?

The mug shot was bad enough – a disturbing, enduring image of a man somewhere beyond the darker side of oblivion – but the Jupiter Police Department’s ‘dashcam’ bordered on the shameful; about as prurient a piece of footage as you could imagine given Tiger Woods still had his clothes on. And I wonder, did you look at those – truly – mind-boggling rushes, shake your head and think to yourself, ‘what in the buggery bollocks are the police doing releasing this stuff to the worldwide web?’ You did? Good. It wasn’t just me, then.

I admit this sceptred isle isn’t perfect; Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary and Jeremy Corbyn is currently chatting up the country with promises he can’t cost and – very possibly – can’t afford. But as eccentric as we all are, we do at least have Section 41 of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act which – forgive me – restricts ‘the publication (including broadcasts, websites and other online or text-based communication) addressed to the public at large (or any section of the public) of material which creates a substantial risk that the course of public justice will be seriously impeded or prejudiced.’ Which loosely translated means that if Tiger Woods had been picked up this week – asleep in his car, engine running, confused, incoherent – on Canvey Island, Essex as opposed to Jupiter Island, Florida, he’d still have been charged but at least he’d have been able to turn up in court wearing his dignity.

I’m no expert but I understand it’s the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States that gives ‘The New York Post’ the inalienable right to – effectively – convict Tiger Woods on its front page; specifically the bit where it says ‘… Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …’, all of which is fine up until the point at which it gives (a) the police the right to hand prima facie evidence to the media before it’s reached even the judge and (b) the media the right to publish said evidence worldwide. Innocent until proven guilty? You would appear to be having a laugh.

Because here’s what happens when a good story gets in the way of the facts. Woods was initially arrested and charged with DUI – Driving Under the Influence – which many assumed meant he was drunk. Indeed the – ghastly – showbiz website, TMZ initially said police officers ‘could smell alcohol on Tiger’s breath’ which was pure hokum given both Woods and the Palm Beach Police later confirmed that his breath-analysis test registered precisely 0.000.

Yet even as I write – Thursday 1st June at 2143hrs BST – I can still find a two-day old article on the ‘BBC Sport’ website which says ‘Tiger Woods Held on Drink Driving Charge’ and another on ‘The Guardian’s’ website – again two days old – which confirms ‘Tiger Woods Arrested on Drink Driving Charges’. I’m sure there are many other, similar stories out there too but if there are – and again I’m not lawyer – I’d take them down sharpish before someone who is a lawyer starts taking an interest.

So, okay, he wasn’t drinking, which – presumably – leaves drugs. Indeed he admits as much, saying he’d had ’an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications’ although – obviously – we’ll have to wait for the police to hand the toxicology reports to the ‘Miami Herald’ before we know whether any drugs he took were indeed prescription and, if they were, why they reacted unexpectedly.

But even then, can we assume Woods was negligent in mixing drugs he shouldn’t have been mixing? Or had he – perhaps – been given a new painkiller and not warned by his doctor(s) of the effect it might have given the cocktail of tablets he was already taking? Either way – obviously – he’s still DUI and, either way, it’s his responsibility to know what he’s putting into his own body – the more so given he’s an athlete – but clearly there’s a moral difference between the two.

Or might Woods’ legal team – bear with me here – perhaps hire a gumshoe to check his whereabouts on the night in question and find he was in a bar with ‘a so-called friend’ necking orange juice? Might the gumshoe then dig out the CCTV footage and see Woods heading to the powder room at two in the morning and his ‘so-called friend’ slipping something into his juice? Yes, of course, it’s all fanciful but what if it happened and the gumshoe can prove it? Indeed what if Woods didn’t even realise he’d been spiked? Suddenly you have a rather different story.

Look, all this is pure sophistry on my part; as they say, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the chances are it’s a duck. But an awful lot of toothpaste is out of the tube here and while Woods no longer has much of a reputation left – not one he’d cherish, certainly – that doesn’t give the rest of us, and certainly not the police, carte blanche to drag him through the dirt before a court of law’s established what happened and why.

Unfortunately, though, we’re already beyond that. Thanks almost entirely to the searing, wretched images released, Woods is now a worldwide object of ridicule, scorn, contempt, pity or hyperbolic claptrap, depending on your viewpoint. One American journalist huffed and puffed about ‘the steepest downward spiral in the history of sports … [finding] … a new rock bottom …’ a journalist – presumably – too young or too stupid to remember OJ Simpson.

Frankly, though, it’s high time a few journalists stopped pontificating and instead asked the coppers down there in Palm Beach how exactly releasing salacious images like these serves the course of justice. Truly, I’d love to know. Does pre-empting the trial ‘up’ the conviction rates or do the media offer bulging, big-buck backhanders that far outstrip a policeman’s meagre stipend? And if they do, then by all means flog the pictures afterwards but can we at least make sure the poor schmuck stumbling around in the headlights is guilty as charged before we stick him in the stocks on the worldwide web?

Woods has long since been a Likely Lad but not necessarily a Likeable One. Certainly not many would have voted him Man of the Year back in 2009 and there’ve been too many occasions when the artifice had seemed more important than the reality; during his last competitive start in Dubai, for example, he said he was physically fine one day and withdrew the next. But whatever’s gone before and whatever you think of the man, he was stripped of all dignity this week and he – indeed anyone in his boots – deserves better. If he turns up in court on July 5th and gets a six-month sentence then fine, pillory him. But until then, can we not give him some benefit of the doubt?

Indeed if Tiger does turn out to be the aforementioned Duck, then he needs a very large kick up the backside. You can’t be endangering life and limb at the wheel of a car you can’t control. But what he also needs is a ton of goodwill and some firm friends to steer him through his torments. ‘He’s been great for the game of golf,’ said Jack Nicklaus, this week. ‘I hope he plays golf again. He needs a lot of support from a lot of people, and I’ll be one of them.’

01 JUNE 2017

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