Friday, April 16, 2010

Creepy Nike Ad

So by now, many of you are familiar with a Nike ad that ran this past weekend to coincide with Tiger Woods's return to professional golf at The Masters. My own reaction when I saw it was one word--creepy--but you should see and judge for yourself:

There are lots of reasons I find this ad creepy. The obvious has to do with the deceased and disembodied voice of Earl Woods. And perhaps it's also the face of Tiger, gazing out at the audience, chastised and chastened by the words of his dead dad.

But really, what is creepy is the need that Nike felt to produce this ad in the first place--that Tiger needs a very public chastisement to receive redemption. That we need to publicly flay Tiger for his sins.

Now, I'm not trying to defend Tiger Woods on any kind of ethical or moral grounds. But I've been doing research about golf and in particular about Tiger for a few years now, and as you can imagine, golf is a very male dominated sport--a very straight male dominated sport. I mean, you gotta figure statistically there'd be a fair share of gay pro golfers, but in all my research I've never heard of any golfer coming out after the tour let alone during his time on the tour. And the stories of Arnold Palmer's womanizing (and there are many other golfers who are married who have had their fair share of affairs if half these rumors are true) makes me wonder why Tiger has been such a lightening rod.

Did we really expect him to be more than he was?

Well, the truth is, we and perhaps I should say "I" had hopes that he would be. And what I mean is that I have always wondered whether Tiger would take on social justice issues, especially around race and racism, since he has been someone who has certainly experienced his fair share of racism, whether he has recognized it as such. And he has certainly known what it's like to walk in a world of extreme privilege.

So I find the shaming of Tiger and the apology making on his part to be fascinating and troubling and creepy--not just because it seems designed to recuperate his "brand" and thus make money for Nike or Tag Heurer or any other corporation, but because the idea that the white golf establishment (and it IS a white golf establishment) needs to publicly shame the only pro golfer of color reminds me of the days of the PGA and its Caucasian-only clause in effect through most of the 20th century. Anyway, I know, it's not an uncomplicated issue and not many people feel bad for Tiger, but from a racial point of view, I think that the need he has felt and others have felt to continue shaming him says a lot about the investment that golf has in keeping Tiger checked.

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