How about a thumbs up to The New York

Times for having the backbone to call Tiger

Woods out on his hypocrisy? Leave it to the old gray lady (not the gray old lady as The Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon called it on Wednesday) to set off a national controversy. There’s a reason The Times is the most important newspaper in the world; more than anyone, except maybe the president, The Times sets the national agenda. This week, it decided that it was time for the most powerful athlete in the world to stand up for what is right.

In a Monday editorial entitled “America’s All-Male Golfing Society,” The Times wrote that Tiger, a three-time asters champion, should sit out this year’s Masters unless the ultra-exclusive, all-male Augusta National golf course admits women. “A tournament without Mr. Woods,” the Times wrote, “would send a powerful message that discrimination isn’t good for the golfing business.” Augusta National has been under fire from women’s groups that have called on CBS, which televises the Masters, and the tournament’s sponsors to demand the admittance of women or risk losing their money. The club’s president, William “Hootie (Knock It Off with the Blowfish Jokes Already)” Johnson has adamantly refused, saying that Augusta is a private club and as a result can have any membership rules it wants.

Fine. No one is going to dispute that Hootie and the Blowhards can have any dumb rules they want. They could only admit hyper-millionaires, for example. What’s that you say? Oh. Or they could come right out and call themselves the He-Man Women Haters Golf Club. The point is not that Augusta can’t exclude women, it’s that they shouldn’t. If they weren’t letting black people in, or Jewish people, or Catholics, or Irish people, this wouldn’t even be up for discussion. No network would go anywhere near a club like that. Why should it be any different with women?

What is perhaps most disturbing about this whole episode is that this is not the Rural Mississippi Delta Cotton Farmers Country Club, it’s Augusta. Its membership list reads like a “Who Would I Call If I Needed An Exorbitant Amount of oney” list. Warren Buffett is a member. Bill Gates is a member. Other than a few golf-related members, the membership at Augusta is a pantheon of American elites. If they aren’t willing to take a small step forward for equality at their damn golf club, what are the odds they’ll be willing to do so in their boardrooms.

So is it all Tiger Woods’ fault? Of course not; in fact, he has nothing to do with the cause of the problem. But he has a special responsibility to be a part of the solution. Tiger does not have this special responsibility, however, just because he is black. And he doesn’t have it only because he is arguably the best player in the history of the game, although that is part of the burden of his greatness. He has it because of both of those things, but even more so because he asked for this responsibility with the messages he sent in his first few Nike commercials. The most notable, of course, was his Nike debut, which featured footage of Woods golfing and a bunch of kids saying over and over again “I am Tiger Woods.” Woods can’t pull a Charles Barkley “I Am Not a Role Model” here; he put himself out there as an example for every kid in America. Now he has to fulfill that promise by showing those same little kids that discrimination in any and every form is patently wrong.

He put himself even further out there when he did commercials correctly condemning golf’s regrettable past by noting that when he was growing up, there were courses he couldn’t play on. For him to turn around now and stand idly while clubs continue to claim to be able to set their own criteria for membership is downright offensive. If Woods has any mettle whatsoever, he will step up in this fight to end one more form of discrimination.

Some people have also suggested that Tiger ought to stay out of it, because politics is politics, and sport is sport. If you think that’s true, get out your history books; they’re littered with stories of athletes changing hearts and minds by opening their mouths or by having the courage to challenge the powers that be just by playing. Jackie Robinson is far too important an icon to make his story comparable to the opportunity Tiger has with Augusta; Tiger won’t be the new Jackie Robinson if he sits out the Masters. But if Jackie Robinson helped end an entire nation’s discrimination with the swing of a bat, just think what Tiger could do to mend one little golf course’s discrimination by not swinging his clubs. If uhammad Ali raised America’s consciousness about the illegitimacy of a war, imagine what Tiger could do about an indefensibly ignorant policy.

Perhaps the best analogy is the state of Arizona’s refusal to observe Martin Luther King, Jr., Day until the mid-90s. Fine, the NFL said, you can take whatever stand you want, but don’t think for one second that we’re going to play the Super Bowl within the borders of Arizona until you do the right thing. The state of Arizona now observes Martin Luther King Day just like the rest of the country, and has subsequently played host to the Super Bowl. That’s the impact sports can have on completely non-athletic issues. CBS and the Masters’ sponsors ought to do the exact same thing to Augusta. Fine Hootie, CBS should say, you can have anyone you want in your club, but don’t think that we’re going to broadcast your misogyny all over the world. Tiger could amplify that message infinitely.

The other argument that Tiger ought to consider in making his decision is expediency. He could put this entire episode behind him with one sentence: “I’m not playing in the Masters unless Augusta lets women in.” Within a month, Augusta would let women in, and Tiger could defend his green jacket. It would be over just that quickly. A Masters without Tiger would be a disaster for the PGA, for Augusta, for CBS, for all of its sponsors – in short, for everyone. I have the feeling that Augusta would admit sea lions as members before they let Tiger walk away. This isn’t the real reason Tiger should stand up for what’s right, but if he really wants this to go away, all he has to do is say the word.

Every year, CBS promotes the Masters as “A Tradition Unlike Any Other.” Some of those traditions aren’t so laudable, though. Augusta used to prevent black people from joining. It used to prevent Jewish people from joining. And it still continues to prevent women from joining. They have the chance to right that wrong, and Tiger Woods needs to use his bully pulpit to get it done now.

The Masters’ tradition should be one of golf excellence, not gross ignorance.

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