In 1997, golfer Fuzzy Zoeller suggested that Tiger Woods would have everyone eat fried chicken and collard greens for the champion’s dish at the post-Masters dinner. Well, Zoeller didn’t eat fried chicken or collard greens. Rather, he at his words. He was vilified in the public eye, lost a million-dollar sponsorship and will be forever remembered for making such a comment. Neither did Zoeller know that the man he made fun of would make mince-meat of him as a professional golfer.
What did Tiger — who happens to be of color — make of it? Nothing. He ignored it and went on to enjoy his first of, what was destined to be, many major championships. By doing so, Zoeller’s ignorant remarks stood on their own. He had to live with them.
If similar comments were said of other well-known persons of color, we would have heard speeches about racial inequity and prejudice and divide. In Tiger’s case, he only needed to be better.
Rarely does one get the feeling that they live in an era of greatness. My respect for Tiger Woods is not only limited to his sport, I admire him as a human being, and as an American. Sure, there are sports heroes, entertainers, politicians, leaders, and so many are a cut above then rest. Baseball has had Willie, Hank, Mickey and Ty. But there’s never been another Babe.
Babe Ruth set the bar of greatness, he elevated baseball to heights players have strived toward for the last ninety years. He wasn’t just great, he was the greatest.
Golf has had its greats, like Nicklaus, Palmer and Snead. But if Tiger Woods were to retire today, nobody will ever match this man as the greatest golfer of all time, not only in skill but in sheer magnetism.
It is not just his 65 tour victories (thus far) or the fourteen major championships that elevate him so far above his peers, he brings out the best in all of us. His attention to perfection, his uncanny concentration and his work ethic provide one of the best role models for kids that has come along in decades. He is not only respected by fellow athletes, they are in awe of him.
There are no super market tabloid stories about Tiger Woods, because his private life is just that: private. He does not use his fame as a political soapbox. There are no studs through his nose, no dyed hair, no flash, no babes on his arm, and no criticism of others to make himself look better.
Sure he’s worth million, but he deserves all his wealth because he earned it. Tiger Woods does not spend time bragging about the many charities he supports, he simply gives and goes about his business.
I was riveted to the U.S. Open this past weekend as Tiger opened the tournament with double-bogeys, many strokes behind, and then struggled with an injured knee while playing catch-up for four days, only to rise above a field consisting of the best 156 players in the world, tying the leader on the final hole with a long birdie putt. The eighteen-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate was a classic. Behind again, coming into the last hole, Tiger prevailed and birdied one more to tie, again. Finally, Tiger did what he usually does: Win. Then, he hugged his opponent.
This was a lesson in never giving up, no matter how futile it may seem. This was a lesson in sheer tenacity and sportsmanship. This was a lesson in working through pain to achieve success, and not complaining about it. This was a lesson in sheer class.
Tiger stands as the only black amid hundreds of PGA tour players, 96 percent white and the rest Asian. (Vijay Singh is from Fiji) But it is never mentioned. Tiger is just another player, albeit a great one. There are no references by commentators, or fellow golfers that Tiger Woods is the first black this, or the first black that, or that he is a trailblazer for people of his race. No one asks him stupid questions about how he feels about achieving all this as a black man. How utterly refreshing that we, the American people, can see Tiger as a man, and not a color, as he stands a Titan among sports figures.
I hope I live to see the day we don’t need black caucuses in congress, black beauty pageants, black police officer associations, associations for the advancement of colored people, black unions, or hear about preachers and politicians who rant on about racial divide as though slavery just ended five years ago. You know what I mean … all that stuff that’s supposed to unite.
I hope I live to see the day when we have an army full of generals like Colin Powell, entertainers like Bill Cosby, actors like Denzel Washington and athletes like Tiger Woods who give of themselves as great and talented people without blustering about color.
Tiger Woods personifies where we are heading, toward a color-blind society. He doesn’t need to remind us of race. He has too much class for that.
That’s more than I can say for others in the public arena.