The instant psychoanalysis of Tiger Woods was as predictable as it was pointless.
His arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence early Monday was painted as either a fall from grace or a cry for help. No matter which it was, it was agreed that his life has careened out of control without golf. One of the greatest athletes in history was now a shell of his former self, barely recognizable to all of us who knew him.
But here’s the thing: We’ve never known Woods. For the first 13 years of his career, everything he did was intended to cultivate an image that would appeal to everyone. After being criticized for telling dirty jokes during a 1997 interview with GQ, his interviews became notoriously bland. He didn’t do anything that could be considered the least bit controversial. He didn’t wade into politics or issues of the day.
But as his run-in with the fire hydrant on Thanksgiving night in 2009 revealed, we knew the persona that’s been created but we didn’t know him personally. Which means that while it’s reasonable to raise questions, maybe even an eyebrow, jumping to conclusions about what demons he’s battling now is unfair.
Is it possible he’s got a substance abuse problem? Sure. It’s also equally possible the painkillers he’s on after last month’s back surgery altered his mental state, as Woods said in a statement Monday night.
According to the police report released Tuesday, Woods failed a field sobriety test after police found him asleep in his car on the side of the road in Jupiter, Fla., the engine in his Mercedes running and the lights on. He was sluggish and struggled to keep his eyes open. He couldn’t walk on his own and didn’t know where he was.
The police report doesn’t specify if he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But he blew a 0.00 on the breathalyzer, which means he hadn’t been drinking. He also told police he was taking four different drugs, including the powerful painkiller Vicodin.
According to the Vicodin website, the drug can cause “Drowsiness, mental clouding, lethargy, impairment of mental and physical performance, anxiety, fear, dysphoria, psychological dependence, mood changes.” Under precautions, the first thing listed is “Risks of driving and operating machinery.”
Woods gave a urine sample, which will reveal what was in his system. And it behooves him to release the results, given his statement Monday night that he hadn’t been drinking.
“I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved,” he said. “What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I didn’t realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.”
It’s easy to say Woods should have known better than to get behind the wheel while he’s on pain medicine. That he’s lucky he didn’t hurt himself or, worse, someone else. That he has once again disappointed his children and his fans.
But it’s also too soon. Without knowing what the combination of his medications was, along with the doses and when he took them, it’s impossible to say whether Woods has a problem or truly had a bad reaction.
Because it’s Woods, however, the temptation is to assume the worst. The sex scandal that ruined his marriage and his squeaky clean reputation will color the way he’s viewed forever. If he could make a mistake that big, do something that stupid, of course we’d think he could do something as dumb as driving while intoxicated.
But we don’t know that because we don’t know Woods. We never have.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.