August 31, 2000

The Case Against Tiger Woods

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“I’m very proud that Tiger is a better person than he is a golfer.”

“[Tiger] will be bigger than Gandhi.”

-Earl Woods

Yes, in the early days of Tiger Woods’ career, his father told the media that he was a great person, and would be bigger than Gandhi. And no, in 1996, no one put much stock in Earl Woods’ bragging. Of course, the golf world was quite right to hold off crowning King Tiger the First until he cut his tusk-like teeth in pro action.

However, I was one of the few folks who believed Earl. I swear. I still have issues of Golf Digest from 1993, when he won the U.S. Junior Amateur. I kept them because of the stats, and the photos inside. The kid was for real. The killer instinct in his eyes, which the media love to comment on now, was there when he was 17, along with incredible poise. If he just keeps developing at the pace he’s set, I thought, he might be more than just a golfer.

Now, after his amazing summer, the golf world has named Tiger its lord and master. He has broken every major record worth noting, single-handedly made golf a hip sport, doubled TV ratings, and brought the level of play on the PGA Tour to a new high. Fellow touring pros gasp when his name is spoken aloud. It has even been said that a lock of Tiger’s hair, when placed in a baby’s bottle, cures colic.

However, I have left the bandwagon in disgust.

Listen —

There are plenty of great athletes who change their respective sports. Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, and Lawrence Taylor altered the face of baseball, hockey, and football.

But every once in a rare while, an athlete comes along with enough talent, determination, and social consciousness to change the world. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Jesse Owens transcended the realm of sports to become heroes to all Americans.

Despite what they tell you in grade school, only a few people really have a chance to change the world. Tiger, with his position, talent, and determination, had his chance. I hoped the determination I saw in Eldrick’s teenage face would translate into adult greatness. Unfortunately, Tiger has no social conscience.

Case #1 = As soon as Tiger walked off Pumpkin Ridge’s 18th hole with the 1996 U.S. Amateur championship, Nike CEO Phil Knight signed him on the spot (on a side note, Pumpkin Ridge Country Club, which was the site of Tiger’s final amateur tournament, and Nike HQ are both located in Beaverton, Oregon. What a coincidence.). Since then, Tiger’s worn The Swoosh like a NASCAR driver.

What is he thinking? Kultida Woods, his mother, was born in Bangkok of Thai and Chinese descent. Less than 100 miles from his mother’s hometown, Nike runs a sweatshop paying children $1.60 a day to sew soccer balls. The average citizen should be troubled; but Tiger, who is one generation removed from Southeast Asia, is draped in The Swoosh.

Case #2 = Tiger and Earl consider themselves golf “ambassadors” for America’s non-WASP population. After winning his first Masters, Tiger talked of how he wanted to bring more minorities to the game. He hasn’t done a whole hell of a lot thus far. Golf is an expensive game; access to clubs and courses isn’t a matter of interest, it’s a matter of money. You want to attract different racial and socio-economic groups? Try pumping money into junior golf programs and camps for urban youth. Along with his millions, Tiger’s persona alone could attract contributions from every celebrity under the sun. If there is a Tiger Woods Foundation, it is anemic at best.

Case #3 = Cases 1 and 2 above display a lack of social consciousness. Unfortunately, Tiger lacks class as well. When actors went on strike from filming commercials to fight for higher wages, Tiger blindly kept the cameras rolling. After his ’97 Masters win, he famously blurted at a press conference, “I didn’t have my ‘A’ game [a.k.a. best stuff] today.” Saying that in Augusta is like mooning the Queen in Buckingham Palace.

Oh yeah, and Tiger also stood up the President of the United States, and refused to meet Jackie Robinson’ widow.

No one will ever be able to say that Tiger wasted his talent, but he is squandering the chance of a thousand lifetimes.

Archived article by Tom McNulty