I'm glad Tiger won the Masters, I just wish he stood up for the black community | Etan Thomas

Tiger’s rejection of our community, like OJ Simpson before him, comes with a price. Black people can and do revel in the meaning of his extraordinary triumph, but we’re not cheering him

Michael Jordan called it the greatest comeback he has ever seen. After all the trials and tribulations, all the ridicule and mockery, all the personal and professional humiliations, Tiger Woods shocked the world by fighting off a field of younger competitors to win his first major title in over a decade at Augusta National Golf Club.

You may not have a pulse if you didn’t feel at least a little warm inside as Tiger passionately embraced his son behind the 18th green, a scene reminiscent of the bear hug that he shared with his late father Earl Woods after winning the Masters for the first time back in 1997. As a father, I can honestly say that it almost made my allergies start acting up.

Couple that with the fact that it happened at the Masters on a course that was literally built on the grounds of a slave plantation, one that no black golfer had ever even competed on until Lee Elder in 1975, at a club that didn’t even have a black member until 1990.

Couple that with this Tiger’s personal history with Augusta: the TV interview as a teenager when the reporter asked which tournament most captured his imagination and he answered “the Masters” and the reporter asked why and a confident, wet-behind-the-ears 14-year-old boldly answered “because of how blacks have been treated there, like they shouldn’t be there, and if I win this tournament it would be definitely be big for us”.

Couple that with the instances of publicly expressed bigotry that Tiger has been made to endure over the years, including but hardly limited to racist remarks by Fuzzy Zoeller, Kelly Tilghman and Sergio Garcia.

Couple that with the way the mainstream media built Tiger up as a golf Superman only to tear him down almost gleefully as they discovered his kryptonite. The sense persisted that many in America were almost cheering when he no longer performed at a Tiger Woods level of domination, transforming him into an object of sneering and taunts. (Even this year, an Augusta patron was spotted wearing a t-shirt with his mugshot on the front.)

And now, finally, Tiger was able to relish the satisfaction of reprisal like Arya Stark with her needle sword as she exacted her revenge on everyone who meant her nothing but harm. This was Tiger’s moment to bask in his glory.

But even with all of that, I found it extremely difficult to fully embrace the moment because there’s another aspect to the story lurking around the corner to meet me, much to my surprise, like Jaime Lannister locking eyes with Bran Stark.

The fact that Tiger has stood unapologetically alongside Donald Trump is particularly troubling to me. Now let me say I have absolutely no problem with Woods voicing a political opinion that differs from mine. I’m not a person who wants to silence anyone who has an opinion or supports a position that I don’t agree with and attempt to discredit them, demean them or personally attack them in any way shape or form. Just as I applaud LeBron James and Steph Curry and the entire Golden State Warriors under head coach Steve Kerr for taking the stance that they didn’t want to attend the White House after their NBA championship because their politics didn’t align with Trump’s, I also have to support somebody like Tom Brady’s choice to not want to attend when President Obama was in office because that’s his right, even if I don’t agree with it. If I don’t, I fall into the same category of a Laura Ingraham, who told LeBron and Kevin Durant to shut up and dribble simply because their opinion differs from hers.

Tiger Woods and Donald Trump
Tiger Woods poses with Team Trump in 2014. Photograph: Uri Schanker/GC Images

But that said, I do believe that we should be able to “disagree without being disagreeable” as Obama always said, and I have the right to disagree with anyone as long as I remain respectful and avoid personal attacks and simply stick to the issues on which we differ.

When you align yourself with someone like Trump, you’re condoning a man who is exactly what former ESPN commentator Jemele Hill called him: a white supremacist or a supporter of white supremacy and white nationalism.

When you boast about being longtime friends with Trump, when you accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom that he is giving you at least in part because of your professed allegiance to him, you are in fact choosing a side. Trump has a well-documented history of looking to inject himself into the national discourse and praise the people, especially the black people, who publicly praise him. So Trump will publicly support Jim Brown and Kanye West and Steve Harvey and Ray Lewis and Tiger Woods because they have publicly kissed the ring. He will use them each as his Black Friend who agrees with him and supports him and loves him (a thing I still can’t believe Jim Brown actually said).

But Trump honors these athletes and showers them with awards out of self-interest: because he thinks honoring those who pledge fealty to him will entice others to do the same. The implication being, of course, that you’ll be subject to his wrath if you choose another direction.

It’s like he thinks he’s Daenerys Targaryen: like when he ordered athletes to kneel for the national anthem or he would unleash his fire-breathing dragons (Fox News) to incinerate them where they stand, calling for them to not only be fired but expelled from the country.

It’s this alliance which personally makes Tiger’s win at the Masters a little bittersweet because I’ve seen this all before. I remember how OJ Simpson wanted nothing to do with the black community to the point of rejecting Dr Harry Edwards when asked to lend his support to the Olympic Project For Human Rights before the 1968 Olympics and combine his voice with all of the other black athletes at the time. Edwards’ plan was to place the collective voice of the black athlete on an international platform to take a stand on the horrific ways in which black people were being treated in America.

Simpson’s response was: “I’m not black, I’m OJ.”

Not too far off from Tiger’s infamous proclamation on Oprah that he wasn’t black but Cablanasian.

Now make no mistake, Trump isn’t the first president to use sportspeople or entertainers as props. It has been happening for decades. But it hasn’t really been seen with a sitting president whose politics are so directly against the black community at this level since Nixon was endorsed by James Brown.

The question recently came up on my radio show The Collision: Where Sports and Politics Collide: Why do we have to put all of this on the shoulders of Tiger Woods? Why can’t he just play a game he loves and enjoy his life? Nobody asks Phil Mickelson or other white athletes to put their necks on the line and risk it all by using their platforms by speaking out on injustice. Is that unfair to Tiger? Should we not defend his right to not be political?

It turns out, as Dr Edwards once told me, OJ was making the same case to him that people are currently making for Tiger: Why can’t he just play ball and live his life and do his commercials and enjoy his riches and rewards without doing anything that could, and most likely would, jeopardize his earning potential.

Dr Edwards’ answer was simple: “Nobody asks Larry Bird to stand up for all poor white people in French Lick, Indiana. So why should I be obligated to move away from everything I have worked for and be asked to make this tremendous sacrifice and stand up for all black people in America. That’s a legitimate question. Now, what’s equally legitimate is, if you decide not to do that, there’s a price to be paid for it and black people have every right to collect that cost.”

He continued: “It goes back to an old saying, what does a man gain who wins the world but loses his soul? Black folks know that, they feel that. And even though they cheered when OJ beat the rap on those two murders, they weren’t cheering for OJ.”

You can root for everything Tiger’s Masters victory meant – the silencing of the many hordes who rooted for his downfall and who reveled in his struggles and wore t-shirts with his mugshot – without rooting for Tiger himself. Because I know a Jon Snow-Arya Stark embrace between Woods and Trump is just around the corner, sending an unmistakable message on exactly what side he has chosen. It’s not for me to speak for an entire community or tell people what to do, but it’s the reason I had trouble fully embracing the jubilation of Tiger’s victory.


Etan Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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