I love Tiger Woods for a lot of reasons. He and I both attended the same university, we are both biracial, and we have both felt the sting of racism. Aside from that, I am a huge sports fan. But unlike most fans, I have no interest in the underdog. I root for excellence, and there has been no athlete in my lifetime -- not even Michael Jordan -- who has exemplified excellence as Eldrick "Tiger" Woods has for the past dozen years.
I will not waste space here listing his accomplishments, but if you're reading this and all you know is that Tiger seems to win all the time and pitch a lot of products, you need to know that he is not just a great golfer, he is an historically great athlete, the Babe Ruth of his generation. This weekend, playing in The Masters, one of golf's most important tournaments, Tiger will have an opportunity to create more history, but I won't be watching.
Even though my kids are in school, my wife is out shopping, and I'm home alone, I won't be watching. The Masters is played at Augusta National, a private golf club in Augusta, Georgia. Until 1990, there were no black members at the club, and there are still no female members, despite numerous protests and much negative publicity over the past few years. If a private organization wants to limit its membership to a certain race, religion, or gender, the United States Constitution guarantees it that right, and I'm fine with that. My problem is that the PGA does not need to play a tournament at such a club.
For me, it is an equality issue. I have two daughters, and I simply can't sit them on the couch next to me while I watch a tournament played at a club where they might never be welcome. (Technically, women are allowed to play the course as guests of members on certain days.)
Should Tiger Woods stand up and make a statement about this? Probably. Should he consider skipping the tournament one year, just to make a point? It would be more than admirable. To be fair, Phil Mickelson, the second-best golfer in the world, could also say something. He has daughters at home who would learn a valuable lesson if their father said something about Augusta National, but neither he nor any other golfer (to my knowledge) has ever said anything about Augusta's membership policies.
Not everyone has the strength of character shown by people like Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, or Billie Jean King, so perhaps we should give Tiger a pass. He's an athlete, no more, no less.
Except that he IS something more. Here's one of Tiger's first Nike ads, a spot which can be read in two different ways. Either Tiger was making a statement about his background as it related to the state of the world, or the people at Nike were exploiting his background for financial gain. More and more, it looks like the latter.
I hope Tiger wins this weekend, really I do. I just wish I could watch.