DA's Morning Tip

Social media fears no excuse for athletes to take unnecessary off-court risks

In light of Tiger Woods' recent DUI charge, why do many athletes pass on car service?

David Aldridge

Can social media concerns trump safety for pro athletes?

The pictures of Tiger Woods were depressing — the world’s one-time greatest golfer looking dazed and confused after his arrest last week on suspected DUI charges in Florida. Whether or not Woods was under the influence of alcohol — he says he wasn’t, and had a bad reaction to painkillers — he clearly should not have been driving when police found him asleep at the wheel of his car, two tires flattened.

The arrest raised the same questions we always hear when a famous and rich person is arrested — what we will no doubt hear in the days to come after five-time NBA champion and former NBPA president Derek Fisher was arrested early Sunday morning in California, after flipping his car on the 101 Highway. The state Highway Patrol determined Fisher had been drinking and arrested him on suspicion of DUI. (Neither Fisher nor his girlfriend, Gloria Govan, who was also in the car, were injured.)

Why don’t these guys get Uber?, people ask. Why don’t they use a car service? These seem like reasonable questions, especially for people who are independently wealthy and can certainly pay for someone to take them home or to the hotel.

But athletes, like many others who aren’t as famous or rich, are still taking the risk. Why?

One NFL player told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman last week that he wasn’t surprised by Woods’ decision to get behind the wheel because of the preponderance of social media.

“There’s no excuse for driving while drunk,” the player told Freeman. “Especially if you’re as wealthy as he is. … [But] players feel like they can’t trust Uber or limos because if they had too much to drink, some Uber driver will take a picture and post it on Instagram. They don’t trust any car service the team might provide. They don’t trust anyone but themselves.

“It’s not an excuse, but this is how it goes. What happened to [Woods], that could be a lot of us.”

“’Bron and all these guys, we took Uber yesterday, and the driver was flipping out. But that’s a part of it. That, flipping out, is better than what just happened (with Woods). By a million times. I’ll take that any day.”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson

If this is the feeling of even a preponderance of pro athletes, or NBA players, or anyone famous, this would be a substantial problem. There’s no indication that’s so. But even one or two guys thinking it’s better to risk arrest than call for help is one or two guys too many.

“I never thought about that. But, I don’t drink,” the Golden State Warriors’ Andre Iguodala said over the weekend. “So I don’t really worry about that. I’ve never been in that situation. But I do take Uber a lot. I take Uber and go to sleep. I don’t care if you take a picture of me or not. But the few times that I’ve had drinks, I’m always with a group of people, and they make sure that I’m good.”

As with the NFL, NBA players have access to free car rides in cities through the league, if they ever feel they need them. The service is confidential. But the ubiquity and price of car services like Uber and Lyft keep them desirable.

“’Bron and all these guys, we took Uber yesterday, and the driver was flipping out,” Cleveland Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson said last week. “But that’s a part of it. That, flipping out, is better than what just happened (with Woods). By a million times. I’ll take that any day.”

These are not academic exercises. These remain potential life and death decisions.

Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident last September. The 24-year-old superstar and two other men died after a boat believed to have been being driven by Fernandez at the time crashed into a jetty in Miami Beach. According to the county’s medical examiner, Fernandez had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood when the boat crashed.

Fatal car accidents in general as well as ones involving alcohol have dropped nationally in recent years, though there’s at least some debate about whether there’s a direct cause and effect between harsher penalties, raising the legal age limit to drink and other actions designed to curb drinking and driving. And the national numbers don’t impact every state, some of which are dealing with spikes in impaired driving.

Last March, the state of Utah adopted a .05 limit for alcohol, which would be the toughest standard in the country — and one that the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended be adopted in all states for the past several years.

Jefferson was at turns sympathetic and critical of Woods’s decision.

“He’s got a billion dollars,” Jefferson said. “He’s a billionaire. Remember when (Colts owner) Jim Irsay was going through that stuff? It’s like, dude, you’re a billionaire. These are problems. I’m not here to judge. There’s not a person that, if you drink — falling asleep at the wheel is one thing — that if you’ve had one too many glasses of wine, you think, ‘man, maybe I shouldn’t have drove, but, okay, nobody got hurt.’

“I think for me, Tiger’s never been in trouble … I’m talking about trouble with the law, something inappropriate. He’s never done that. He comes out and said ‘alcohol was not involved.’ And people were like, ‘oh, he’s in a downward spiral. Okay, now he’s addicted to pills.’ And it’s like, dude, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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