Once the image of Tiger Woods — lithe, fit and triumphant in a slim-cut knit shirt and black Nike hat, flashing his bright white teeth — was emblematic of the American Dream. As he won four Masters Tournaments, three U.S. Opens and four PGA Championships, he seemed unstoppable and destined for sports immortality.
Photographs of the golfer sparked that special feeling of being in the presence of greatness.
On Monday, however, another image spoke of greatness squandered, a dream faded, a cultural hero’s decline and mortality.
It was his mug shot.
The golfer was arrested Monday on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, though he later said in a statement that “alcohol was not involved.” Instead, Woods said he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.”
In his mug shot, which Mashable described as “pretty depressing,” Woods’s eyes are half-open and appear unfocused. Bags of loose flesh sag under them. His mouth is a straight line, suggesting anger, perhaps indifference. He does not look well, and he certainly does not appear happy. Perhaps he had consumed alcohol, or perhaps it was a side-effect of his medication.
Perhaps he was merely tired — after all it appeared he had been up all night — and didn’t expect to be photographed and have his picture tossed onto the Internet for all to see.
Yes, he’s aged. But he’s still only 41.
Woods hasn’t been convicted, but mug shots don’t discriminate between guilt or innocence. As Golf Digest’s Jaime Diaz put it, “The mug shot … will live forever (thanks to the Internet) of a disheveled and unshaven Woods looking into the police camera.” Yahoo! Sports’s Dan Wetzel called the mug shot a “new iconic image for this old iconic athlete,” adding, “There is nothing funny or entertaining about this one.”
USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan wrote:
How sad is this? How troubling? … What happened to the young man we all thought we knew, the one we saw in another photo in 1997, the most famous photo of Tiger there is? Only 21, pumping his fist, roaring in triumph after winning his first major tournament, the 1997 Masters?
Where has he gone?
What a stunning contrast these two photos are, taken 20 years and seven weeks apart. They chart the rise and fall of a man who had it all, then watched it crumble away, of his own doing.
He also was the object of biting ridicule. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Scott Ostler cheekily wrote, “Tiger hasn’t won anything in years, unless you count his victory in the ‘Scariest Police Mug Shot’ contest.”
Twitter users naturally poked fun at the fallen athlete as well.
Woods’s downfall has been gradual but consistent — much of it by his own hand. His father, with whom he was extremely close, died in 2006. ESPN wrote the “death of his father set a battle raging inside.” Three years later, his then-wife Elin Nordegren chased Woods from their house with a golf club, after she learned of his serial infidelities. His golf game never recovered.
Still, it’s difficult not to feel the loss of his potential when gazing at his latest mug shot.
“The celebrity mug shot is a great equalizer,” The Washington Post’s David Montgomery wrote in 2003. “For perhaps the first time since they became famous, they don’t have creative control. They can’t whine about the lighting. They can’t agonize over the angle. They don’t get final cut. These utilitarian precinct house images, stripped of artistry and contrivance, reveal celebrities at their most real.”
And in the age of social media, of course, these spread as quickly as a virus and live on in perpetuity. “Celebrity mug shots are both not plentiful enough and much too plentiful; they bubble up infrequently and, when they do, go viral immediately,” Avi Steinberg wrote in the New Yorker. It likely doesn’t help that with each celebrity arrest, we’re treated to a variety of articles rounding up famous mug shots.
Take John Daly, for example. Once Woods’s rival on the green, Daly became an Internet joke when he was detained for public intoxication after he passed out at a North Carolina Hooters in 2008. In his mug shot, he squinted through swollen eyes, greasy hair sticking up at wild angles while his orange jumpsuit hung open.
Though taken nearly a decade ago, the photo resurfaced as many dredged it back up to discuss Woods’s arrest.
Given that mug shots are never planned, part of their unique appeal is the idea that we’re seeing someone’s true colors, their truly candid emotions and intentions.
For example, when Johnny Manziel, a college football star nicknamed “Johnny Football” but often decried for seeming privileged and rude, was arrested on domestic assault charges in 2016, many found in the mug shot proof of his supposed egocentric nature. He appeared to be smirking at the camera.
“That picture is the ultimate smug, smirking, ‘I couldn’t care less about this’ picture. The guy clearly has no comprehension of what he has done wrong or how bad this looks. This story is sad and getting sadder,” Ryan Phillips wrote in the Big Lead.
And, even though O.J. Simpson was famously tried for double homicide in 1994 and found not guilty, many thought his mug shot spoke volumes. The Post wrote, “he is betrayed by his droopy, tired eyes and his shirt collar half under and half over his jacket collar. He looks like a man who doesn’t have it all together.”
Woods’s mug shot sparked similar opining on Monday.
In a piece titled, “If mug shots could talk, Tiger Woods’ would be yelling ‘Help!,'” the Orlando Sentinel’s David Whitley called it “the mug shot that will be seen and shared around the world.”
“I just hope the mugshot isn’t the unvarnished truth,” he added. “If it is, the golfer who once ruled the world has truly hit rock bottom.”
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