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We Are Tiger Woods

  Have We Come Very Far?

 One Step at a Time

The Nike commercial is simple, but it makes a profound statement. Children and teenagers of different races and ethnicity proclaim, “I am Tiger Woods,” the 21-year-old golf sensation. With those repeated four words, the commercial works on a number of levels. The words speak of the rich heritage of Woods himself: African, Thai, Chinese, Native American and European. They speak of our oneness as humanity and of our commonality as people. Those of us who cheer Tiger Woods do so because each sees something in him to which we can relate.

A few months ago, Woods became the first African American and the first Asian American to win the Masters tournament. Until 1990, no black man was allowed to join Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. To date, it has only two black members. In fact, Clifford Roberts, the founder of the Masters tournament, once proclaimed, “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white, and caddies will be black.” Tiger Woods shattered that long-held belief. Prior to his win, Woods says he said a prayer thanking the other black golfers who had paved the way for him.

During an awards dinner in 1996, Earl Woods spoke of the destiny he envisioned for his son: “My heart fills with so much joy when I realize that this young man is going to be able to help so many people....He will transcend this game and bring to the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before....I acknowledge only a small part in that I know that I was personally selected by God himself to nurture this young man and bring him to the point where he can make his contribution to humanity. This is my treasure. Please accept it and use it wisely.”

Woods’s Masters victory came just days before baseball celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of baseball. Robinson literally put his life on the line at times to play a game he loved. As numerous columns and editorials have repeatedly pointed out, Jackie Robinson opened the door for Tiger Woods.

As tribute to Robinson, Deion Sanders, an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, altered his road uniform to replicate the style Robinson himself wore when he played: pants to the knees and sleeves cut off to the shoulder. The National League officials were not amused. They threatened to fine Sanders for every day his uniform did not conform to the uniforms of the rest of his teammates. Sanders refused. Therefore, in a show of solidarity, the entire Reds team had its uniforms altered to conform with Sanders’s.

Sanders’s teammate Barry Larkin, captain of the Reds, said, “In sports, you can transcend racial barriers, but only while you’re playing. When you’re between the lines, you don’t see black and white. When you get off the field...that’s when it becomes an issue again.”

Have We Come Very Far?

During Holy Week this year, Chicago was forced to confront the ugliness of racism head-on. Three white teenagers were accused of beating Lenard Clark, a 13-year-old black youth, into a coma. Two of the accused were students at a local Catholic high school. The third had graduated from the same high school last year. One of the first tasks of Chicago’s new archbishop was to visit Lenard in the hospital.

Shortly before that incident, students at another Chicago Catholic high school taunted a black player on an opposing basketball team with chants of a racial epithet.

Bishop Raymond Goedert, administrator of the Archdiocese of Chicago, strongly denounced both incidents, saying, “As a family of faith committed to a consistent ethic of life, we are deeply troubled that students from a Catholic high school are alleged to have been perpetrators of a hate crime.” He further stated, “Manifestations of racism, whether hate crimes or verbal taunts, are fundamental violations of the teaching of Jesus.”

In Cincinnati, the headlines of Woods’s victory at the Masters shared the front page with news of national serial-killer and racist Joseph Paul Franklin’s confession of the 1980 shooting and killing of Darrell Lane and Dante Brown, two young black cousins who were walking to the store.

One Step at a Time

Because of the incidents in Chicago and racists like Joseph Paul Franklin, it would be naive to believe that Tiger Woods winning the Masters, and a 50th-anniversary celebration of Jackie Robinson, will miraculously erase the racial division that plagues our country.

The reality is that there are still golf courses where Tiger Woods is not welcome and cannot play because of the color of his skin. And he is still subject to comments such as those by fellow golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, who called Woods “that little boy” and jokingly urged him not to order fried chicken or collard greens at the Champions Dinner next year.

What Tiger Woods accomplished on the course at Augusta National was a very important step, but we must recognize that it is just one step. As Mary Heidkamp, co-director of Chicago’s archdiocesan Office for the Ministry of Peace and Justice, said after the two racial incidents there, “Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a crisis to realize our house is simply not in order. We have a lot of work to do.”

Bishop Goedert said the archdiocese needs to “redouble its efforts in our schools and parishes to confront racism.” He also asked Catholic parents to talk with their children “about the evil of racism and help them learn how to overcome the forces of racism in our society.” Bishop Goedert’s recommendations should apply to all of us.

And until racism and hatred no longer exist, we must speak out against them and teach our children to do the same. It is what we must do because Darrell Lane and Dante Brown never got to realize their life fulfillment, and because Lenard Clark will never be the same. We must remember—“They are Tiger Woods.” We are all one in the body of Christ. It’s time we started acting like it.—S.H.B.

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