Thursday, December 3, 2009

Can we let Tiger be Tiger? Should we?

I've debated about whether to blog about Tiger Woods and the recent mishap that he had with his car hitting the tree and fire hydrant at 2am, the reporting in various tabloids and magazines about women claiming to have had affairs (or denying affairs) with him, and the statement on his website apologizing for "trangressions" he has made and his statement that like the rest of us, he is human and has flaws and would appreciate some privacy in this matter.

I have written in the past about Tiger--about how he is not solely responsible for whether or not there are more black golfers on the PGA and in a post titled "Let Tiger be Tiger."

But can we let Tiger be Tiger? In other words, should we, the larger public, respect his need for privacy--ignore the hype in the tabloids, switch the channel on CNN, ESPN, every major news outlet when they carry something about his alleged affairs or his car accident or anything else related to Tiger outside of his golf swing?

How much scrutiny, how much judgment should we be leveling at Tiger in the court of public opinion? How much of this matters to the readers of a blog called "Mixed Race America," beyond the fact that its author is a golfer, a Tiger Woods fan, and sees him as the subject for one of her book chapters?

I can't really speak on anyone else's behalf but my own, so let me see if I can sort this out here. There is a part of me, the anti-racist educator and activist part of me, who has long wanted Tiger to be SO MUCH MORE than he seems to be--who has wanted Tiger to be a spokesman for social justice and racial equality. That every time he accepts an endorsement from a major corporate sponsor like Gatorade or Nike or Buick, that he insists on a little PSA talking about anti-racism or anti-sexism or anti-homophobia--and the ways that golf can turn its image around as an elitist country club sport and be inclusive for everyone, including working-class kids.

It's a pipe dream, I know--a true fantasy. And in some ways, unfair to expect the golfer of color to be the one who is going to speak truth to power when we all know we need allies of all races to step up to the plate.

But none-the-less, I like many others, want Tiger to be something more than he is--a flawed human being. And in many ways, because of how ubiquitous he is in mass and popular culture--all those t.v. ads that show him as a super-human being, and all those golf tournaments in which he defied the laws of physics and the averages--winning more championships than anyone else currently playing (and perhaps, projected into the future--more than any other golfer in our lifetime)--he seems to be a super human being. Plus he seems to also care about certain causes--namely education. Setting up learning centers for kids who are largely working class and racial minorities to help them get up to speed in math and science and all those Tiger Woods golf clinics helping working class kids, especially girls and racial minorities, see golf as a path for excellence in their larger lives. He seems to care about kids--to be a rolemodel for kids.

So how do we reconcile the news that he has clay feet--that the evidence for him cheating on his wife and family appears damning--that he is not the super human being that he is portrayed to be?

Perhaps what Tiger offers is an object lesson, as a recent New York Times article titled "Woods as Inadvertent Educator: Choices Matter" indicates. I think what we can learn from Tiger Woods is that he is human and has made mistakes--not just the allegations of infidelity, not just the accident with his Escalade--but there are countless flaws and failings that he must have, that we do not see, or that we do see but overlook because we want Tiger to be this perfect super-human role model.

But maybe the best rolemodels are the ones who admit they are human--who admit their mistakes, apologize, and then go on and learn from them. Because that's what it means to really succeed. Not that you never fail, but that in your lowest moment, how do you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, apologize to any you have harmed, make genuine amends, and then move forward? How do you recover from an "F" on an exam? From your parents' divorce? From racist comments made by fellow students...from a teacher...from yourself--racist comments YOU have made towards others? How do we admit our mistakes and failings and grow from them?

Yes, I'm disappointed to find out that Tiger may have cheated on his wife--multiple times. It suggests a moral frailty and vanity and arrogance that doesn't sit well with me. On the other hand, I have my own frailities, vanities, and arrogances. I do want Tiger to be better than what he seems to be, if only because I want him to be that super-human rolemodel, as unfair as it is--but like everyone else in the world, I need to remember that my desire for him to be this symbol ignores the reality of who he is--and what I'll be waiting and watching for is how he handles himself in the next few months and years. We all deserve a level of compassion--Tiger may not be able to ask for less scrutiny as a public figure, and we can condemn him for his moral failings, but I think that as a figure who seems to genuinely want to make a difference in children's lives, we should also allow him a measure of compassion.

And I'm not going to stop hoping that one day he will step up as that Mixed Race American spokesperson who champions issues of social justice. Yes, I can dream.

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