April 9, 2010

As Tiger Woods teed off in the first round of the Masters Thursday, I was on vacation at Legoland with my wife and kids. Legoland has no televisions. I texted my brother, asking how the fans were treating Tiger. He replied: “Fine. He’s 2 under. I hope he wins.”

I was surprised at my own response: I hope Tiger doesn’t win. Why this gut reaction?

I’ve been a Woods fan since watching one of his U.S. Amateur titles, when he came from far behind to win. He went to my alma mater, Stanford. I think we all forget that even after his many major championship wins, he’s still an underdog because he’s a black golfer. I love underdogs.

I puzzled over this for a while, and finally decided this: the ingrained criminal defense lawyer in me thinks a Tiger win would be unfair.

Over and over again I see a criminal justice system that punishes peoples’ mistakes too harshly, and for too long. I’m not just talking about overly lengthy prison sentences. Last week a man called me to ask if there was any way to expunge his prior conviction for felony larceny from 11 years ago. He had been 23 at the time, strung out on drugs, and stole to fund his habit. Since then he said he’d been clean, got married, had a couple of kids and a good job. But then when his employer had him up for a promotion, it ran a nationwide record check and found his conviction. Instead of promoting him, it fired him. I understand Tiger didn’t commit a crime by betraying his wife. Apples and oranges. But a Masters victory this weekend would seem like unfair forgiveness. Or at least redemption.

I can’t help the husband with the old larceny conviction. He doesn’t qualify for an expunction. He still goes to AA/NA meetings every week. He’s trying to stay serene about the things he can’t control, like employers who are too scared to keep a good employee who happens to be an old felon.

But I don’t have to be serene. By summer, I’ll probably be back to rooting for Tiger. But this weekend, I can’t do it.