Our unseemly fixation on Tiger Woods' DUI

There are some stories which simply get stranger and stranger the more we learn about them, spurring increased public scrutiny and ginning up the rumor mill. The story of Tiger Woods’ DUI shouldn’t be one of those.

The past couple of days have brought yet another round of “breaking updates” in the papers and on cable news about the latest details in the Tiger Woods DUI case. This time it’s an “unredacted” police report which reveals that… gasp… Woods was also given a prescription for Xanex in addition to the other drugs his doctor had ordered for him. That, it seems, justified this sort of coverage. (Associated Press)

Tiger Woods told officers during his DUI arrest last month that he had taken Xanax, as well as other prescription medications.

Woods’ claim was revealed in an unredacted version of the Jupiter Police Department’s investigation report, obtained Friday by The Golf Channel.

Woods, the 14-time major champion who had back surgery in April, was found asleep at the wheel of his Mercedes around 2 a.m. on May 29 and arrested on a DUI charge. A breath test registered 0.0 for alcohol, corroborating Woods’ claim that he had an “unexpected reaction” to prescription medicine.

Why is unexpected reaction in scare quotes? I realize everyone was ready to assume that he was drunk, but when it turned out that he was telling the truth it just seems like the media has to find something… anything… scandalous here.

The thing is, there really isn’t a scandal. There really isn’t even a story unless you happen to be a friend or family member worried about his health. Keep in mind that the article I excerpted above came straight off the Associated Press feed. I know I covered this once before, but this is a tale which is barely suitable for the tabloids and it’s still showing up in the mainstream press all the time.

Our friend Andrew Malcolm weighed in on “what we know and when we knew it” regarding Tiger with little more than a single, elegant sentence.

So, if sleeping under the influence has become a crime, there are an awful lot of Americans now at legal risk every day — and night.

That’s pretty much in line with what I said on this subject last time. I’m willing to let Tiger be Tiger and not hold him to a different standard than anyone else.

In the end, what did Tiger Woods really do? Even in the worst case scenario where the original suspicions were true, he would have been one more guy who exercised bad judgement and got behind the wheel after drinking too much. Not admirable and potentially a danger to others in his community, but even that would have been a tiny story which impacts almost nobody in the larger scheme of things. If he was honestly screwing up his prescription medications, that’s a good tip for everyone to be reminded of to be sure, but it hardly requires the endless parade of mug shots we’re seeing on cable news and the torrents of hand wringing going on.

And now we know that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Tiger didn’t have a drop of booze in his system. He screwed up his prescriptions (or was given insufficient guidance by his doctor) by taking Xanax at the same time as another prescribed medication with potentially horrible results. (And the guy just had back surgery for crying out loud.) Oh, and he wasn’t driving. He pulled over and fell asleep in his car. It’s a cautionary tale about being careful with prescription drugs and following the instructions for your medications, but no more than that.

In that first article of mine which I linked above I referenced a column from National Review which dealt the the phenomenon of people who make it big only to crash and burn spectacularly. These are often celebrities and sports heroes who are victims of their own vices and lack of self-restraint. (And to be clear, I’m not saying real stories of that sort don’t abound.) But what precisely are we supposed to be pointing to which would indicate that Tiger Woods falls into that category? I mean, what’s he really done? Okay, so his marriage broke up. As if that doesn’t happen to roughly half the country sooner or later. And this pain medication thing.

So here’s the question I’d like to ask today. Are we so in love with the whole “superstar falls from grace” genre of news that when somebody like Woods fails to deliver the juicy, trashy story that the media assumes we all want to hear, they’ll just keep hammering at it until they can make it sound true? Tiger Woods isn’t Charlie Sheen and no amount of sensational reporting is going to force him into that mold.

The only one that can ruin Tiger is Tiger, and so far I don’t see it happening. He’s a talented athlete who came from relatively modest beginnings and made it huge in America. He’s a citizen success story in our capitalist enterprise who, by all accounts, is still exceptionally wealthy with the prospects of a great life to come. Trying to turn him into something else for purposes of feeding the gossip mill isn’t doing us any credit.