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Ex-NBA star is the fallen athlete, not Tiger Woods

By Roland Martin, CNN Political Contributor
  • Roland Martin cites case of NBA ex Jayson Williams
  • Williams has been sentenced to five years for killing a man
  • Martin says his fall from grace, not Tiger Woods', is example to examine
  • Both men morally wrong, only one legally wrong, Martin says

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith," and the forthcoming book, "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a one-hour Sunday morning news show.

(CNN) -- A little over a week ago nearly every media outlet was fixated on Tiger Woods and his apology news conference. We saw pundits, columnists, journalists, radio talk show hosts, psychologists, body language experts, entertainers and anyone with an opinion weigh in on the sincerity of Tiger: Was he really sorry for committing adultery, should he apologize further and hundreds of other angles.

Some even described him as a fallen athlete who will lose millions of endorsements and a man who has destroyed the trust he built up with his fans. I even heard one woman say she needed Tiger to apologize, yet couldn't articulate why it mattered so much to her, especially since she wasn't his wife, kin to him, and wasn't a family friend.

Yet if there was ever one athlete we could truly place in that category of fallen athlete, it would be former NBA star Jayson Williams.

While Tiger brought shame on himself and his family by his admitted extramarital affairs, he has broken no laws, and what he did doesn't affect us at all.

Yet Williams is another matter. This week, he was led away in handcuffs after being sentenced in a New Jersey court for fatally shooting a limo driver on February 14, 2002.

Some carried his sentencing live. Yet most networks ignored his case, which ended eight years of courtroom drama.

Frankly, if there was a case that is instructive to kids who look up to athletes, it's Jayson, not Tiger.

Jayson Williams was a gregarious and fun-loving man who could light up the court. After injuries took their toll and ended his NBA career, he was a rising TV analyst with NBC, a playful man with a big heart.

I'll never forget watching him on "Oprah" with his dad as they talked about building his huge mansion, how it was a place where hundreds of kids traveled through as a result of his charitable endeavors and how he had a zest for life.

Video: Judge sentences Williams
Video: Williams issues apology
Video: Bumbaco on Williams sentence
Video: Williams' manager speaks out
  • Tiger Woods
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But that all ended on the night the life of Costas Christofi ended. After a dinner, Williams returned to his home and was showing several folks his many guns when he snapped his double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun shut. Williams didn't realize it was loaded, and a single bullet hit Christofi in the chest.

A panicked Williams put the gun in Christofi's hand, and even jumped in his pool, hoping to wash away the evidence.

Williams was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter and convicted on four counts of coverup. He settled with Christofi's family for $2 million, all while the case went back and forth through the legal system.

While that was happening, Williams began to lose it all. His wife filed for divorce; he was hit with a stun gun by police after an encounter; he crashed his vehicle in another incident and threatened to kill himself.

Williams was a man who fell victim to alcohol and guns, a deadly combination.

He was sentenced to five years in jail and is eligible for parole in 18 months. Everything he had -- money, fame, budding TV career, marriage, friends, respect -- all lost because of the horrible decisions he made one fateful night.

Jayson Williams didn't achieve the level of fame as Tiger Woods, but we can surely learn more from his fall from grace than Tiger's. The former killed a man, the latter cheated on his wife. Both morally wrong, only one legally wrong.

Tiger will undoubtedly return to the golf course one day. Sure, he can fret about losing millions in endorsements and may have to confront losing his wife. But Williams must forever live with the memory of a man dying as a result of his actions.

We all may want to focus on Tiger, but it's the tragedy of Jayson Williams that should have all of us talking and examining what went wrong in the charmed life of a basketball star.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.