Tiger Woods: a public image in a divot
The other night I was jumping from link to link online for the latest news on Tiger Woods. I found some provocative opinions. More on those in a bit. First, some personal views:
I can’t say I’m sorry for the circumstances Tiger finds himself in. Allow me to give two reasons.
First, I recall an incident from early in his professional career. One of his fellow touring pros was asking every other touring pro to autograph one golf ball each. The balls would then be auctioned to raise money for charity. As I remember, Tiger was the only pro who refused to autograph a ball. The word “cold” came immediately to mind.
The second incident is from a tournament during the 2008 golf season. Tiger had been in a position to win during the final round on Sunday but failed to get the job done. His fellow pro Phil Mickelson also was in a position to win and also failed. A TV reporter interviewed each golfer after his round. Tiger was first. His answers were short, vague, begrudging. He seemed to be sulking, despite the fact that he would take home a paycheck two or three times greater than the annual income of most of the gallery and everyone reading this.
Mickelson followed. During his interview, he acted as if he was sharing a Gatorade with a friend at the end of the golf day. He admitted that he was disappointed at not winning, but he still didn’t mind answering the questions. It was easy to see that it would be a lot more fun for a fan to hang out with Mickelson after the tournament than with Tiger.
Mickelson: a fan favorite
The difference between the two golfers shows up on the course, too. Mickelson clearly enjoys the attention from the gallery, exchanging smiles with them and the occasional hand slap on the way by. Tiger acts as if the gallery doesn’t exist. For that matter, he acts as if the television audience doesn’t exist. Either that or he doesn’t seem to mind that hundreds of people on the course or hundreds of thousands of other people watching on TV see him flinging his club in disgust after a bad shot or hear him uncorking R-rated strings of epithets when his shot flies off course.
This is not to say that I don’t have enormous respect for Tiger as a golfer. He hits the ball farther with his short irons than I can with my driver. Other pros are starting to close the gap between themselves and Tiger, but I can only watch him and marvel at his skills. Many consider him to be the greatest golfer ever; at the end of his career, many more will share that opinion.
Anyway, the other night I was jumping from internet link to internet link, following the Tiger story, when I found myself at a column called “Ten Things You Could Learn from Tiger Woods” at a Web site called The Root. I started the article, written by a journalist named Jimi Izrael, and came to the third thing I could learn from Tiger:
3. White women are gulley, too. Not only did Elin Nordegren probably/maybe bust Tiger's lip, but did you hear that she called the jump-off at work?! .
I didn’t understand the phrases “gulley” and “jump-off,” so I began to wonder what The Root was. Here’s what the site says:
“The Root is a daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives. [ … ] The Root aims to be an unprecedented departure from traditional American journalism, raising the profile of black voices in mainstream media and engaging anyone interested in black culture around the world.”
A little later in his column, Izrael writes:
White women accentuate your blackness. Tiger Woods, the monied black man surrounding himself with a bevy of below-average, dirt-road white women looks more like Polow Da Don than a role model to millions. There is no racism here, and I'm sure he'd get the same kind of attention if he were Brett Favre — but only if Farve were married to a sista. It would be hard to look at this story and not see how race makes it even more titillating. The media wolves have been waiting for this day for over a decade, and his blackness has never been so apparent.
Having raised this question, I want to point out that I have no doubt that racism is bubbling in scattered pockets close to the surface of the Tiger story—maybe even in Izrael’s column (see the link below). And the race question permeates this Associated Press story:
(Romance isn't color-blind)
But my own view of Tiger’s situation is not affected by his race and ethnicity. Sure, I notice Tiger’s skin color—but to me it’s no more significant than the color of the shirts he wears on Sundays. I think that for me and many others, he transcends race.
(Eight more things about Tiger)
That’s not true of the only other two athletes who have had a Tiger-esque profile in my lifetime: Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.
Muhammad Ali was a political figure too
Ali clearly was a high-profile black man, and his blackness made it easier to see just how courageous he was when he decided to cite his Islamic religious convictions for refusing induction into the armed forces during the Vietnam War. Why do I say “courageous”? Because a tragic portion of American politics was influenced by assassins during that era. He's pictured above with Malcolm X, who was killed by an assassin. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also was the victim of an assassin during that same era. Ali may as well have painted a bull’s-eye over his heart.
Jordan as the ultimate pitchman
Jordan, though, when viewed in the same socio-political lens, was the anti-Ali. Somebody once wrote Jordan had “the social consciousness of a baked potato.” For me, it was impossible not to contrast the sociological color of Ali’s blackness with that of the equally famous Jordan. But as I said, I have never viewed Tiger through the lens of race—at least, to the extent that such a view is possible by a middle-aged, middle-class white man who has enjoyed white privilege all of my life.
The Salahis: clowns, but not funny
While I was at The Root, I found a column by a writer named David Swerdlick. The headline was “Why the Salahis Should Go to Jail.” I have written about these party-crashing clowns before, suggesting that if they had been caught at the party instead of afterward, they’d probably be vacationing at Club Guantanamo Bay right about now. Swerdlick took it further:
The Salahis might be “harmless,” but they still have to take one for the team. If their publicist, Mahogany “If That’s Your Real Name” Jones lands them a book deal, good for them. If they go on The Today Show—again—good for them. They deserve all the publicity they get.
But if convicted, they also deserve jail time—for at least six months if it’s going to mean anything. Anything less says: “If you can do 30 days, you can get on TV.”
At the end of the next paragraph though, Swerdlick raises a point that I hadn’t heard before, one that requires due consideration:
And that doesn’t let the Secret Service or the White House staff off the hook, because playing around with national security is no joke. A year after the Mumbai terror attacks, White House security might want to tighten up its game when the first black president hosts India’s prime minister. Just imagine how it would have played out if Obama were white and the Salahis were black.
Here’s the link to the column if you’re interested:
(Go directly to jail. Do not pass go)
Having said all this, I know no more about The Root than what I saw at the site. However, all of us, as media creatures, need to seek new perspectives on the news that are as diverse as possible. We also need to be skeptical (which is a good thing, as opposed to cynicism) about all of those perspectives, too. In a society that’s is becoming increasingly diverse by the minute, we need to understand how all of our fellow citizens are thinking so that all of us can work together to make our world a better place. My time at The Root provided me with perspectives I would not have reached on my own, and the questions about if/how racism is affecting these two stories have been lingering in my mind. For me, nothing but good can come from trying to work my way through those questions.