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Commentary: Tiger, Vince & public obligation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 25, 2010 - By the end of last week, every local newscast followed the same script. The national report was headlined by the embarrassingly public mea culpa of Tiger Woods; the local segment opened with the latest developments in the saga of besieged police commissioner, Vince Bommarito.

These seemingly unrelated stories in fact pose the same essential question: at what point does public obligation trump private prerogative?

Tale of the Tiger

Woods, it turns out, likes sex. He’s currently in therapy for this problem and one would imagine that he has a surfeit of fellow patients with whom to commiserate. Now let me get this straight: Chicks go for guys who are young, good-looking, rich and famous? Well, that explains a lot…

I don’t seem to recall, say, Joe Namath’s celebrated popularity with the fairer sex to be the cause of much public consternation. Then again, Joe wasn’t married when he played the field and, at least as of this writing, Tiger is. He thus owes a profound apology to — in descending order — his wife, his children, his mother and his caddy. End of story.

It would be one thing if Woods, like Kurt Warner, was a public figure who used his fame to promote his religious beliefs and their attendant family values. But he did nothing of the sort. In fact, I didn’t realize he was a Buddhist until he said so at his press conference. The only advice I can remember Tiger giving me was to drive a Buick. How did this guy become a moral exemplar?

He’s a golfer, for crying out loud. Why on earth would you turn to man who’s good at hitting little white balls with odd-shaped clubs for existential guidance? His fans contend that he’s brought excitement to game that could use some. They may have a point — I’ve noticed that if I watch a tournament on TV, it usually takes me three to five minutes longer to pass out on the den sofa if he’s playing.

Though golf is to tedium what dentistry is to discomfort, it’s clearly a value-neutral enterprise. If anything, his admirers should apologize to Woods for placing the undue burden of their personal expectations upon him.

Now the shunned ex-lovers want an apology. Excuse me, ladies, but you should have known, or could have easily found out, that you were cavorting with the married father of two. Those who play with fire get burnt.

Aside from his family, the real victim here is the caddy. That stalwart proletarian has had his livelihood interrupted while the boss tries to figure out why he likes to make love to beautiful women.

For what it’s worth, Tiger, I forgive you. You behaved like a coyote in heat but I didn’t buy the Buick. Let’s call it even…

Bommarito’s Bombshell

The case of Vincent Bommarito is an entirely different matter. The prominent restaurateur was a St. Louis police commissioner and as such, had a clear obligation to the public. He was accused of using the influence of his office to spring his nephew from a DUI rap.

After the nephew was nabbed leaving the Mardi Gras celebration in Soulard, Bommarito apparently called a police sergeant of his acquaintance to ensure that said nephew wouldn’t spend the night in jail. The suspected miscreant was subsequently un-arrested and conveyed to his uncle’s restaurant.

I don’t know Mr. Bommarito personally but I do know the sergeant in question. He is a fine man and an excellent cop who has served this city well. Anyone who tells you different is either purveying malicious slander or woefully ignorant of the truth. That said, the case was hardly handled in routine fashion.

While Bommarito remains adamant that he did nothing wrong, advocates of returning control of the police department to city hall have seized upon the incident as a prime example of what’s wrong with the current system. That assertion merits commentary on a couple of different levels.

Before condemning the commissioner’s actions, ask yourself what you would do in his place. You know that impaired driving is a serious problem with potentially lethal consequences, but in this case no person was injured and no property was damaged. The only reason the “incident” was an incident in the first place is because of the suspicions of the arresting officer.

You’ve known the suspect since birth, watched him grow up, his mother is your sister. You celebrate birthdays and holidays with his family and attend the same weddings and funerals. Now he’s in a jam, and you’re in a position to help.

And besides, there’s more than a touch of hypocrisy here. Event organizers boast that our celebration of Mardi Gras is second only to New Orleans. Mardi Gras is all about the 3 B’s — beads, boobs and booze, lots and lots of very pricey booze.

The city that pays the cops to enforce drunken driving laws is the same one that cheerfully collects the tax revenues generated by parking fees and liquor sales. Is it possible that the people who drive to Soulard sometimes drink there? Isn’t “responsible revelry” something of an oxymoron? Wouldn’t a shrewd lawyer construe this event to be an “attractive nuisance” for impaired driving?

With all this in mind, what would you do? Before you decide, suppose for a moment that instead of being a total stranger who later was found to be a commissioner’s relative, the suspect was the nephew of the arresting officer. Do you think we’d still have a case here? Unless they’ve repealed human nature since I left the force, I know how I’d place that bet.

To be sure, Mr. Bommarito contends that he never asked for charges to be dropped and only wanted to arrange for the lawful release of his nephew. I will take him at his word, but must acknowledge at least the appearance of impropriety. He must concur because he has since resigned his post.

Ironically, the proposed solution to the problem of undue influence on the police — local control —figures only to make matters worse. Instead of four appointed commissioners, we’d have 28 aldermen and a host of elected city officials running the show. These are all decent people, but that’s a lot more relatives to worry about.

I leave it to the reader to determine how well Tiger and Vince discharged their obligations to the public. To me, they both appear to be human.

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.

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