Monday, November 30, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Beat em' when they're down and beat em' again for good measure before they can get up. The beat down supposedly is not the American way of dealing with those who are down. The ground rules radically changed the moment Tiger Woods did life threatening damage to a tree and a fire hydrant. With that the beat down started with a vengeance. No matter that the only body damage done was to Woods. There was no allegation or hint of drugs or alcohol. No matter that the law did not compel Woods to talk to police just to provide his license, registration and proof on insurance. No matter that he publicly accepted responsibility for whatever damage he caused, called the gossip “malicious,” and pleaded for the media and public to respect his privacy.
None of this has mattered. It’s irrelevant not because a sex, celebrity gossip, rumor and innuendo starved and obsessed mainstream media salivates at the prospect of scandal and titillation at the mishaps of celebrities. Nor have Woods’ pleadings that the accident is a non-issue been sloughed off because he is one of the sports world’s most bankable, best known noblesse oblige goody two shoes role model for the sporting world.
The truth is that the Tiger Woods beatdown began ages ago. The whispers, innuendoes, and back biting began the instant that he exploded on the golf scene. He wasn’t black enough. He was too black. He was too arrogant. He was too aloof. He was too selfish. The more green Masters Tournament winners jackets that he donned and world class tournaments he won, and the fatter his bank account grew, the undertow of carping about him continued unabated. There have even been personal and race tinged digs and cracks that golfer Fuzzy Zoeller (“fried chicken”) and Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman (“lynch him”) made about him.
Woods graciously and diplomatically shrugged off the inanities and kept doing what he does best and that’s win tournaments. It didn’t stop the gossip mongers. Woods was simply too big, too good, and too rich for the tastes of a wide swath of the public and the celebrity crazed media.
Despite Woods careful and cautious downplay of race, for another swath of the public he was still a black sports icon who dominated what for decades was a gentlemanly, high brow, near sport of kings, white man’s game. The price a black sports icon pays for resting on that high perch can be steep. One misstep and he or she can become the instant poster child for all that's allegedly wrong with celebriity, sport and society.
There are two reasons for that. When Woods tore up the greens he became the gatekeeper for the storehouse of fantasies and delusions of a sports crazed public as well as advertisers, sportswriters, and TV executives in desperate need of vicarious escape, titillation, excitement, and profits. Woods was the ultimate in the sports hero who fulfilled that empty need.
He was expected to move in the rarified air above the fray of human problems while raising society's expectation of what's good and wholesome. He’s been handsomely rewarded for fulfilling that fantasy even though as he admitted in his statement about the accident on his website tigerwoods.com, he is only human. He reminded the world the obvious. He has the same flaws and foibles as anyone else, and that certainly includes sports icons.
The other reason for the Woods beat down is his fame and fortune. Black super stars cause much media and public hurt when they supposedly betray the collective self delusion of sport as pure and pristine. That stirs even greater jealousy and resentment. That's evident in the constant fan and sportswriter carping about how spoiled, pampered and over paid Woods and black athletes supposedly are. The first hint of any bad behavior by them ignites a torrent of self-righteous columns and commentary on the supposed arrogant, above the law black athlete.
Woods has not had nor will he have a day in court. He hasn’t done anything to warrant one. But he squirms on the hook in the other court, the court of public opinion. Many in that court have tried, convicted and sentenced him. His sentence is cruel. That is having to cancel golf tournaments, hearing whispers from sponsors and ad persons about his image, and of course, the drumbeat tabloid gossip. But given who he is the sentence is not unusual. It's called the Tiger beat down.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.