December 5, 2009

Focus should be on Tiger's public failures

Original link from theGrio.

On Tiger Woods' Website he said, "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone."

But rather than paying attention to aspects of Tiger Woods' life that should remain purely personal, people should instead focus on his failings as a public figure. As an athlete, Woods has excelled and assumed a preeminent leadership role. But as a black athlete who owes a great debt to those giants who came before him, Woods falls short.

There is a long tradition of prominent African-American athletes who have spoken out on social issues and political causes, sometimes even risking their careers and lives in the process. They view themselves as an integral part of the community, and they give back to the community that produced them.

Consider giants such as Paul Robeson, who spoke out against racism and fascism, and was a trade union and peace activist. Senator Joseph McCarthy singled out Robeson for his political activities by in the 1950s, and his passport was confiscated for eight years.

Muhammad Ali refused to fight in Vietnam because his religious beliefs as a Muslim wouldn't allow it. As a result, he was arrested and stripped of his championship title, and his boxing license was suspended. NBA legend Bill Russell was a vocal civil rights advocate who participated in the 1963 March on Washington, and challenged racism in the NBA. Tennis trailblazer Arthur Ashe was arrested for protesting against South African apartheid and the treatment of Haitian refugees.

And today, NBA star Tracy McGrady is a human rights activist who is helping to improve the lives of children in the Darfuri refugee camps, the victims of genocide in the Sudan.

Meanwhile, there has been no word from Tiger on issues of racism and social injustice, even when he is the target of racist attacks. Woods didn't mind when Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman said on the air that young players should "lynch him in a back alley." And in 1997, fellow golfer Fuzzy Zoeller called Tiger "that little boy", and suggested that Woods should not have fried chicken or collard greens at the Master's Club Champion's Dinner. Zoeller apologized for the remark. Three days later, Woods issued a written response, calling Zoeller a "jokester" who likely did not mean to offend.

Woods has an organization, the Tiger Woods Foundation, which, according to its website, "is giving youth the skills to lay their own groundwork for the future." The foundation says it has helped more than ten million children. Woods' foundation has a questionable five-year deal with the oil company Chevron, which is the title sponsor of his annual fundraising golf tournament. The target of numerous lawsuits, Chevron has been accused of committing human rights abuses around the world, contaminating the Amazon rainforest, and supporting brutal military regimes in Nigeria and Burma (Myanmar).

And as sports writer David Zirin reported on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, Tiger Woods refuses to denounce the prevalence of sex slavery and slave labor in Dubai, a resort city known as the Disneyland of the Persian Gulf. A sparkling city of excess built by slave labor from the Indian subcontinent, the Philippines and Africa, Dubai is the home of Tiger Woods' $100 million golf course and resort.

If a descendant of slaves will not speak out against slavery - including slave labor from which he might benefit - what will it take for him to open his mouth?

For the nation's first billion-dollar athlete, perhaps the paper is just too good to pass up. Some people in the spotlight believe that when the money is rolling in, you should not make waves otherwise you might threaten those corporate endorsements and sponsorships. Ultimately, there are far more important things, including your reputation in the community, your sense of social responsibility, your character and integrity, and even your soul.

Tiger Woods should be commended for his athletic prowess and commercial success. However, he did not make it to the top of the ladder by himself. He stands on the shoulders of those black athletes who demonstrated their heroism by taking a stand off the field, off the court and off the course. Tiger's wealth and prominence demand that he do more. Remember, for those who forget from whence they came, that ladder of success also goes down.

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