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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Singling Out Woods Is Hypocritical Act

November 24, 2002|Michael Wilbon | Washington Post

You listen to some folks, you'd think it's Tiger Woods' fault Augusta National has no female members. I read these diatribes criticizing Tiger Woods for not coming out in favor of women being admitted to Augusta, even though I can think of a half-dozen interviews in which he has said he favors women being members of Augusta. But for some folks, that's not good enough; Tiger Woods is apparently supposed to be the caretaker of women's golf in America.

I read an editorial in Monday's editions of the New York Times that suggested that Tiger should boycott the Masters, the most prestigious tournament in the world, in April so that he can send the message that discrimination isn't good for the sport.

Oh, is that right? I bet the editorial pages of the Times never suggested that Jack Nicklaus should have boycotted the Masters because Augusta National didn't have any black members. And if we want to make it a little more current, I didn't see the Times suggesting in that same editorial that Phil Mickelson or Davis Love or Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton -- all American men with wives and daughters -- should boycott the Masters, or for that matter as much as open their mouths in protest.

Why Tiger and not, say, David Duval?

Because Tiger is black. No, the Times didn't say that, I am. But the writer couldn't have been more obvious. Sure, he's the best golfer in the world, and the most influential, but even if Sergio Garcia or Ernie Els was No. 1, a whole lot of folks -- like the editorial writer for the Times -- would be crouching and waiting for Tiger. I checked the clips this morning, and I didn't find any such editorial by the Times suggesting CBS not televise the Masters.

Tiger, the Times suggests, needs to have a social conscience but other golfers -- read, white golfers -- do not. The men who run broadcast networks do not. I didn't realize that of 248 golfers who have made money on the PGA Tour this year, only one 26-year-old black golfer is supposed to have a social conscience, and everybody else on tour gets a pass. The Times ought to write another editorial explaining why that's so.

In our desperate search to find a clear and unwavering voice on social issues, particularly as they relate to sports, we've rushed to anoint Tiger Woods. Partly, this is his father's doing, saying that Tiger is one day going to be as important as Gandhi, which is insane and puts way too much pressure on the son.

Tiger is 26. How many 26-year-olds who grew up middle-class in Southern California and wanted for virtually nothing because his parents gave him everything could possibly have a fully developed social conscience and know how to express it on the world stage? No matter how hard some folks wish it to be, Tiger isn't Arthur Ashe and isn't ever going to be Ashe, or Muhammad Ali.

Tiger didn't grow up in the shadow of Jim Crow "whites only" signs in the South, or on the wrong side of the tracks. The set of circumstances that produced the Jim Browns, Tommie Smiths and John Carloses haven't come within 10,000 miles of Woods. He has no legitimate reason, not yet anyway, to wake up every morning in a rage over the injustices he has faced because he hasn't faced many, if any. He'll get there, I suspect, in time. But damn if he should be pushed there by the New York Times.

And how is it that Tiger, by boycotting the Masters, absolves white men who play golf from participating in the national discussion on the exclusion of women at Augusta National? Maybe the Times hasn't noticed, despite the reporting of their wonderful golf writer, Clifford Brown, how often the words "no comment" come from the mouths of golfers other than Tiger who won't go on the record with their feelings.

Generally speaking, I don't look to athletes for social commentary. But on this issue, given that it has been raging for five months, I would at the very least like to think there's a pulse. Though I disagree with golfer Len Mattiace's position that he is fine with Augusta not admitting women, I applaud him for not only voicing what he believes but for saying golfers ought to open their mouths and participate in such an emotional national discussion.

In putting all the pressure on Tiger to settle this dispute by withholding his excellence, the Times seems to miss the fact that South African Gary Player has been one of the great crusaders for racial equality in sports, and that Els, also South African, has been willing to enter the difficult and emotionally charged discussions.

My only real criticisms of Tiger throughout this debate have been that he had better not allow marketers to present him as a crusader while backing off in real life, and that his voice is far stronger than he knows.

Not only can he rock the boat, he can turn it over and shake it like a bathtub dingy.

If Woods wanted to boycott the Masters, I would applaud him.

But for the gray old lady Times to suggest he should while making no such demands on anybody else is too arrogant and too transparent for me.

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