By Scoop Jackson
ESPN.com, Page 2
Updated: January 11, 2008, 11:18 AM ET
In the words of his late father, he was put here to change the world.
"He will transcend this game ... and bring to the world ... a humanitarianism ... which has never been known before. The world will be a better place to live in ... by virtue of his existence ... and his presence."
What Earl Woods foretold for his son in that Sports Illustrated article in December 1996, most of us have been privileged to witness. Not just on the golf course, but also in the way Tiger Woods handles life. Not only his, but life in general. He has been, if you look beyond the apparent, the perfect "Cablinasian" of Jordan, Oprah and Obama. Not only in skill, but in character, and in having the almost innate ability to make race -- specifically his race -- a nonissue. As Greg Garber once wrote on ESPN.com, "In the end, Woods has served as an example of racial harmony simply by being himself."
Now comes the hard part.
When the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman used the phrase "lynch him in a back alley" to describe how young players on the PGA Tour should overcome Tiger's dominance, it was the latest in a long line of inconsiderate and inappropriate comments that have been made about people of color (especially African-Americans) in the world of sports.
Tiger and his agent Mark Steinberg have called the comment "a nonissue," stating that Tilghman is a friend of Tiger's and that "regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally that there was no ill intent in her comments." True. And with the Golf Channel suspending Tilghman for two weeks because of her gaffe, everything is now supposedly cool. All's forgiven. No harm, no foul.
Not so. The situation is foul. Not in what Tilghman said, but in the fact that she didn't consider the history of African-Americans in this country before speaking, and she felt, to a certain degree, "comfortable" enough to let that reference slip out of her mouth during a broadcast. And after everything that went down with Don Imus just nine months ago, you would think that we -- all of us -- would have learned something. But apparently not all of us have. And this is where the "existence" of Tiger Woods comes in.
Because of who he is, Tiger Woods has the power to make people listen. Not just hear his words -- but embrace what he has to say. His commercials speak to us. His educational facilities are changing the way schools around the country view education. It is understood that his friendship with Tilghman prevents him from reacting strongly to what was said or throwing her under a bus by using her as an example. He's too classy to do that. Surely, he has learned from his own verbal misstep as a young man -- that inappropriate joke he told a GQ reporter in 1997. Tiger probably believes Tilghman's comment was about him and no one else. And things like that don't affect Tiger Woods. Again, "nonissue."
But a nonissue does not translate to a "nonstory." Because in actuality, the comment wasn't about Tiger Woods at all. The context is much larger; Tiger just happened to be the victim. But being a victim of something like this (especially when you have reached the global icon status he has attained) does not mean that "ignorant forms of phraseology" about you are actually about you. You might be the target, but a lot of others can and will get hurt in the process. No man is an island. Which is why Tiger needs to say something. Not loud, but clearly.
If he looks at the recent history of broadcast insensitivity -- especially involving figures in sports -- he'll realize isolated incidents can't continue to happen "on occasion" for 25 years. Not at this pace. He'll see the connection to insensitive remarks from Howard Cosell, Al Campanis, Marge Schott, John Rocker, Imus and countless others.
He'll realize -- regardless of what we'd like to think -- not a damn thing has changed.
He'd realize a friend invoking the word "lynch" -- even when there is no ill intent or ill will behind it -- is bigger than him. He'd realize this is a problem bordering on an epidemic, and no one has really done anything to stop it. (Apparently taking someone's job away or publicly humiliating them isn't working.) He'd realize by saying something about the nature of how we express ourselves without taking into consideration -- or showing respect for -- others' ethnicity, gender, lifestyle, size, handicap, disability, etc. is just as important to his "existence" as winning 19 majors. He'd realize this -- this moment -- is what his father was talking about.
It's an opportunity that theoretically can't be missed. Not if he is to fulfill his prophecy.
Imagine if Tiger said something like this: "People, think. Think about what you say before you open your mouths. Consider other human beings, consider their pasts, consider their color, gender and culture. What was said recently about me was insensitive, but I can excuse that. Kelly's my friend. But the time has come for all of us to begin to respect one another to a degree that we won't allow incidents like this to happen again. This verbal insensitivity in sports has been going on too long, and we must all do our part to stop it. And that begins with us respecting other people's races and cultures before we speak. Listen, I'm not perfect. Even I have said some things in the past that were inconsiderate of others. But that has changed. Now, especially now, it's time for all of us to look at the roles we've played in letting insensitivity become an accepted form of racism. I'm Tiger Woods. It's time to change." Like I said, theoretically. Imagine the power of that.
It's a stand he needs to take because people who change the world eventually have to take stands. Whether strong or silent, good or evil, they take stands not to prove their beliefs, but to rectify a situation or condition. The entire nature of being able to change the world or using your "powers" to do it, means you acknowledge the world is not perfect. Hence, the word change. And with one simple statement, Tiger Woods has the power to do that. He can speak to a generation. Just one statement. The question is: Will Tiger Woods say something now that he's the victim?
The father said his son will do "more than any man in history to change the course of humanity." More than Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi, Buddha and Nelson Mandela. Said, "He will have the power to impact nations." Said, "He's qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles." Said, "The world is just getting a taste of his power."
I believe Earl Woods was right about his son. Now is the time for the son to make the father a prophet.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2. Sound off to him here.