Tiger and Obama … Why so Compelling?

April 9, 2009
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tigerbam2By Brad Eastland, t.s.p

     Okay, so Tiger Woods has completed his comeback.  The knee is fine, he’s played a few tournaments, and last week he won at Arnie’s place with yet another stirring, pulse-pounding Sunday rally; meaning, suddenly and spectacularly,  he’s now virtually odds-on to win his 5th Green Jacket next week at Augusta.  There is no one in all of Sports like him.  Yes indeed, the man is greatness walking tall in golf spikes.

     So I was sitting around the other day ruminating on Tiger’s greatness, whilst concurrently trying to come up with something brilliant (or at least mildly entertaining) for this week’s column, when something occurred to me:

     Tiger reminds me a lot of our recently inaugurated new president.

     And not just for the obvious reason, which I’ll get to in a minute.  There’s lots of other stuff.   Both are married with two children.  Both have parents who divorced.  Both are good-looking guys without being devastatingly handsome, with luminous smiles which—at the same time—tend to hit the eye on the overly-toothy side.  At the risk of being politically incorrect I happen to think they look alike, and that the president, only 14 years Tiger’s senior, could easily pass for his big brother.   Google up a few pictures of each of them and tell me if you agree.   Each even favors the other’s snug, close-cropped haircut.  Each is, of course, the greatest in the world at what he does.   And yes, they are men of similar complexions.  

     On that point, the similarity goes even deeper.   For while Obama has been rightly celebrated as the first-ever African American president, what he really is, to be precise—as we all now know—is a man of mixed race; an African father, a white mother from Kansas.   Tiger, as is equally well known, sports a mixed-race background of his own, combining Caucasian, black, Native American, and Asian influences.   “Cablinasian”, as he likes to call himself.  (oh, brother)

     One other way in which these two icons parallel each other is their reluctance to say one word more than they have to about anything.   Obama, the master politician, does it out of a perceived necessity.   Woods, the master striker of small white dimpled spheroids, does it….does it….well, I don’t really know why he does it, because he sure has taken a lot of heat for it over the years.  (Now that he’s elected and firmly ensconced in the presidency, here’s hoping Obama grows out of that habit.   As the most significant and influential person on the planet, I hold him to a higher standard.   As for Tiger, I personally don’t care if he ever takes a strong stand on an issue.   Hit the ball, chip the ball, putt the ball, pump your fist.) 

     Isn’t it weird that neither Tiger’s success nor Obama’s triumph has produced a flood of African Americans pursuing their respective professions?    I’ll prove it: Quick, name three other nationally prominent black U.S. politicians.  Bet’cha couldn’t.   Quick, name three other highly ranked black American golfers.   Bet’cha can’t.   Because there aren’t any.   Look at it this way.   America is roughly 12% black, meaning, theoretically, that there should be roughly six black golfers ranked in the top 50 nationally.   Meaning there should be five other top-50 black golfers besides Tiger.   Well at least four.   Okay, maybe three.    Two?   No you don’t, Vijay Singh is from Fiji, he doesn’t count.

     ‘Know how many there are?   That’s right.   Zero.

     And that’s when it hit me.   What makes the Tiger and Obama phenomenons so compelling isn’t that they are African American men who still managed to get to the top of traditionally white-dominated professions; it’s that they’re the ONLY ones who have.  They’re all alone. 

     Wouldn’t you think there’d be dozens, scores, in fact legions of African Americans following Tiger and Obama down the difficult roads they traveled?   They already showed us the way.   That was the hard part.  Tiger’s road took him from the municipal courses of Orange County to Augusta National, the most storied golf club in America, a locale with a history steeped in bigotry and prejudice, and yet now he a man of color is lionized there.   Obama’s road was far tougher, of course, taking him from Hawaii to Indonesia to East L.A.’s own Occidental College and finally—after fighting through nearly 400 years of ingrained, often institutional subjugation and wrong thinking—to the White House.  But those roads are paved now.   Where’s the traffic?

     What it all tells me is that we still have a ways to go.   Tiger and Obama each lit for us a lantern, but even members of their own race have not followed it en masse.    We are all just creeping toward the lantern light, taking only baby steps.   In the case of Obama’s unrealized example and the dearth of A-list black politicians, I understand it.   He’s still pretty recent, as phenomenons go.    Baby steps.   But Mr. Woods has been stalking America’s fairways and greens for almost 15 years now.   Where is the diversity that should have ridden in on his coattails?   Where are those other five top-50 black golfers???

     It’ll happen someday.  Truth is, the United States has always been a country that takes baby steps.   Change comes slowly in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  As a nation, despite the recent progress which Woods and to a far greater degree Obama personify, we should not be deluded into thinking that we have fully arrived at that more perfect union.   We’re not there yet.   But thanks to those two lanterns, at least we can see the road ahead without having to squint.


Add note:  —oh, and next Sunday, in the Butler Cabin, when Tiger slips gracefully into his Green Jacket?   Look at him real close and just see if you can imagine him as Barack’s baby brother….bet’cha can.   









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