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Save the Tiger

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Dec 01, 2009

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 that the law did not compel Woods to talk to police to provide his license, registration and proof of 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. Its irrelevant because a sex-and-celebrity gossip, rumor-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 most bankable, best known role models of the sporting world.

The truth is that the Tiger Woods beat down began ages ago. The whispers and innuendoes began the instant that he exploded onto the golf scene. He wasnt black enough. He was too black. He was too arrogant. He was too aloof. He was too selfish. The more 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 made about him by golfer Fuzzy Zoeller (fried chicken) and Golf Channels Kelly Tilghman (lynch him).

Woods graciously shrugged off the inanities and kept doing what he does best -- winning tournaments. It didnt 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 white mans 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 celebrity, 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 excitement and profits. Woods was the ultimate in the sports hero who fulfilled that 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. Hes been handsomely rewarded for fulfilling that fantasy even though, as he admitted in his statement about the accident on his Web site tigerwoods.com, he is only human. He reminded the world of the obvious. He has the same flaws and foibles as anyone else.

The other reason for the Woods beat down is his fame and fortune. Black superstars 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 overpaid 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 supposedly arrogant, above-the-law black athlete.

Woods will not have a day in court. He hasnt done anything to warrant one. But he squirms on the hook in the court of public opinion, where many have already tried, convicted and sentenced him. His sentence is cruel: having to cancel golf tournaments, hear whispers from sponsors and ad execs about his image, and of course, the drumbeat of tabloid gossip. But given who he is, the sentence is not unusual. It's 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.

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Golf Takes Backward Steps on Diversity Issue

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