Jim Brown is (Mostly) Wrong on Tiger Woods' Social Activism

Golfer's words would carry great weight on social issues, but that's not his bag.


By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Today I am among the many thousand Washingtonians tramping the hallowed grounds of the Congressional Country Club, watching Tiger Woods and some of his friends hit a little white ball over sand and wave and across green fields.

I am drinking a beer and getting sunburned and being properly awed by the talent on display. And I am thinking about a mini-debate begun by the great football player Jim Brown about Tiger's social activism—or lack of it.

Brown thinks that Tiger isn't a militant enough man of color. In yesterday's Washington Post, Michael Wilbon outlined the debate, and came down on Tiger's side. Wilbon detailed the great things that Tiger does with his foundation, which reaches out to underprivileged kids in Southern California and will soon be opening a welcome branch in Washington. He suggested that Brown's own militant activism was of an era, and that Tiger's different kind of contribution is a better fit for our increasingly diverse country today.

It is not that Tiger doesn't know discrimination. Back when he was just a great young black athlete—before he climbed his way into the hall of fame of American athletics—I heard enough of the boors and boozed-up rednecks in his galleries to know that, for all his aplomb, Woods knows the bite of bigotry. There is a lot less of that now. His gifts and grit and dignity have shamed them. He is pretty much accepted, by golf fans of all colors, as the champion that he is.

Like Barack Obama, Woods is a herald of a post-racial America. He does his part every time he stands on the tee, or sinks a winning putt, the cool and classy king of a sport that, for too many years, was played at segregated country clubs, where the only dark skins were in the kitchens and the caddy yards. Just by being Tiger, he fights, and wins.

But, truthfully, I confess I was disappointed when Tiger took the safe way out during last year's presidential election. If there was anyone who should have endorsed Obama—or merely just said some nice things about him—it was Tiger. He gave some nods and winks but declined to speak out. It was "complicated," he said.

Woods had many reasons to keep his political opinion to himself. Nike and his other big-money sponsors would no doubt look with less than great enthusiasm at a pro golfer who alienates half (OK, this is golf, probably way more than half) the potential clientele by endorsing a Democratic candidate.

And it's hard enough answering all the silly questions from the sporting press without adding a political controversy that, whenever times got a little dull, would be hauled out and chewed upon.

Who knows? Maybe Tiger had mixed feelings. His dad was a Vietnam hero, like John McCain.

And I will never forget the lesson in politics that the Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar gave me on the day that Bill Clinton threw the first pitch on Opening Day in Cleveland. Alomar was Hispanic—naturally he would be for Clinton, right?

Nope. "He raised my taxes," Sandy griped.

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