Despite Earl Woods's pronouncements comparing his son's social impact with Gandhi's, Tiger Woods has never shown interest in being a political crusader. (See Woods's wishy-washy response to Augusta National's men-only policy.) So it must have been a jarring sight for Michigan motorists when, on Oct. 1, a larger-than-life Woods popped up on six billboards around the state, supporting Proposal 2, a $1 billion bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot that would earmark money to fight water pollution.
Did the ad signal Woods's entrance into politics? Fat chance. His likeness had been used without permission by Grand Rapids artist Mark Heckman. A nongolfer, Heckman had seized on Woods when he picked WATER HAZARD as the headline. "I didn't think it was a big deal," he says. "Who's opposed to clean water?"
But Woods's agent, Mark Steinberg, was angered by the billboards. In the Detroit Free Press on Oct. 19, Steinberg was quoted as saying, "The most disappointing thing is that a political position is stated and that's just wrong, so outrageously wrong." He also vaguely mentioned "recourse." On Oct. 21 the ads—which had been paid for by Peter Wege, a Michigan millionaire active in environmental causes—were taken down by the billboard company. But after Heckman talked with the company's owner they went back up, with Woods's image painted over. Says Heckman, "I thought that was the end of it."
It wasn't. The next day he received a letter from Woods's lawyers, reading in part, "This prominent and unconsented [sic] use of the image and identity of Mr. Woods has caused Mr. Woods considerable monetary damages." The letter demanded Heckman use the same billboards, for one week, to apologize.
This kind of hardball is not foreign to Woods, who in 1998 sued Alabama artist Rich Rush, hoping to prevent the sale of paintings depicting his victory at the '97 Masters. In April 2000 a federal district court ruled against Woods, saying Rush's portrayal was "an artistic creation seeking to express a message." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has yet to rule on the appeal. Heckman, meanwhile, says he feels bullied by Woods's lawyers and isn't sure what he'll do about any apology. "What ever happened to political satire?" he says. "Is Tiger Woods bigger than the First Amendment?"