Among the many quirky, independent movie stars and suave entertainment icons appearing at the pre-inaugural Lincoln Memorial concert for Barack Obama, Tiger Woods stood out like George Will in New York’s West Village.
Talk about change. Normally, Woods sees the political world the way Dick Cheney sees the Bill of Rights: frightening and to be avoided at all costs. He’s probably never even been to the nation’s capital without a golf club in hand or a Nike swoosh on his clothing. His presence at the inauguration–while bracing–was, in a bizarre way, all too fitting.
Barack Obama has been compared to Tiger Woods numerous times. Their backgrounds as multi-racial men achieving success in predominantly white fields are far too tempting for lethargic editorial writers to overlook. During the 2008 general election McCain supporters also embraced the comparison. In April, former Army staff sergeant David Bellavia told a rally of right-wing veterans, “You can have your Tiger Woods, we’ve got Senator McCain.” So there Woods was, squaring the circle and coming to DC to say his piece.
At first, I was glad to see him there. I have been critical of the superstar, whom many consider history’s greatest golfer, because even though he usually shies away from politics, he has often callously embraced political imagery when it serves his endorsement needs. Woods has even occasionally sought to commodify the very civil rights movement that made it possible for him to waltz through country club doors as a young man.
Most infamously there were the “I am Tiger Woods” ads, in which a rainbow coalition of children told the world that they, too, could be Tiger Woods. This harkened back to the finale of Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X, where black children from both the United States and Africa stood up and said, “I am Malcolm X.” An old Black Panther film about the police assassination of Fred Hampton, in which one child after another said, “I am Fred Hampton,” inspired that scene. If Woods deems the black freedom struggle appropriate enough to exploit while selling Nike products, then he ought to highlight it in more relevant ways as well. So I was hopeful that Woods would attempt to repay a debt with his appearance in the shadow of the Great Emancipator.
The press has been rapturous in its reviews of the Woods speech. John Canzano of The Oregonian wrote: