Woods lays up instead of driving point home

What if Tiger Woods has nothing to say beyond those short, cautious statements released by his agent?

What if any deeper message Woods might utter about racially insensitive comments or a golf magazine putting a noose on its cover isn’t that insightful after all?

What if his father was wrong and Tiger never really was built to have the social impact of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela but simply to become the best human ever to swing a club?

His voice then today is where it should be, which means where he desires it, which so far in this and most cases involving social debate means silent.

The fact Woods was directly connected with the storm created by a Golf Channel anchor stupidly suggesting other tour players “lynch him in a back alley,” and the subsequent firing of a Golfweek editor for the magazine’s tactless cover this week, has again allowed others to chastise Woods for his reluctance to address controversial issues, particularly those dealing with discrimination.

How shortsighted. It’s like voting for a presidential candidate simply because some windbag of a Hollywood star throws out an endorsement. One’s celebrity, no matter how popular and vast, shouldn’t automatically identify that person as knowing how best to create change.

Woods is obviously highly informed and intelligent. It certainly could be enlightening to hear his as a voice of social conscience, considering his powerful standing in the sports world crosses so many diverse cultures, but only if that voice indeed helped transform obsolete ideals.

James Brown said it best when the sports anchor once addressed Woods’ unwillingness to speak out more. “I don’t begrudge an athlete’s right … if they don’t want to become politically active or endorse a social cause or issue, if there’s not the passion,” said Brown, who is black.

A person’s right. What an interesting concept.

No one beyond those within his tightly closed camp knows the level of fervor Woods feels for certain issues. He showed a glimpse of intent to promote change early in his career by stating he wanted “to make golf look like America,” and then later verbalized his opposition to women being discriminated against in golf during the Augusta National membership dispute.

But many have always felt he should do and say far more, that removing himself from remarks such as the ones made by anchor Kelly Tilghman through a simple statement saying he considers it a nonissue and that he knows there was no ill intent merely detaches Woods from other blacks, that as a rare person of color in a sport historically defined by white faces, he is obligated to speak on issues of race. I don’t understand such logic, and don’t believe you need to be black to do so.

How ironic that on the same week such controversy explodes around golf, the nation again celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Students at Cornerstone Christian Academy, like thousands across Las Vegas, Nevada, and the rest of the country, held a program to honor King. They sang songs and played music and recited specific quotes from the civil rights leader. A few gave some of the more famous speeches by him, including one remarkable young man who precisely delivered a memorized performance of “I Have a Dream.”

It was an inspiring show on the same day a golf magazine that most average sports fans never heard of until now put a noose on its cover.

It’s impossible to know what King would make of Woods. It was King who said the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Perhaps, then, he too would take offense and want more from such a prominent sports figure.

Or perhaps he would realize that in his own way Woods has generated a different kind of change and yet no less significant, that his foundation and its learning centers and educational programs have helped tens of millions of children achieve their dreams, that while his voice might not be as loud and emotional as some in times of racial discussion, speaking out purely for the sake of being heard is not his responsibility.

Tiger Woods is a golfer and not a social activist, his spotless image carefully shaped so that it is marketable to a wide range of countless socio-economic groups. If he chooses to use his voice about issues such as those catching the nation’s eye this week is not for others to decide.

Isn’t that his right, as with all of us?

Ed Graney’s column is published Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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