Tiger Woods, racism, and the Donald Sterling scandal

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

At 14, Tiger Woods decried the Donald Sterling-like racism he faced everyday as a young African American golfer.

Tiger Woods is golf’s version of Zelig -- ubiquitous and overtly or not so obviously a part of almost every golf story written. So it really should not come as much of a surprise that the world No. 1 has made a cameo appearance in the future made-for-TV soap opera that is the Donald Sterling scandal.

No, Woods has not gone public with (nor been asked to comment on, as far as we know) his opinions about the racism and overall awfulness of the Los Angeles Clippers owner finally coming to light, as have Tiger’s golfing buddy Michael Jordan and LeBron James, among others.

Donald Sterling Fallout

But with advertisers like Kia Motors America, Red Bull, and State Farm -- all current or former sponsors of PGA and/or LPGA Tour events and players -- backing away from the Clippers in the wake of the national firestorm Sterling ignited with remarks he allegedly made in a recorded conversation with a woman, observers are quick to harken back to the companies that dropped Woods following his personal Waterloo.

"Still fresh in the minds of sports fans is the Tiger Woods scandal that caused multiple sponsors to end their relationship with the golfer after news broke of his multiple affairs," Tim Parker wrote for Benzinga.

Some, like the Associated Press’ Marly Jay offered that "many sponsors stood by golfer Tiger Woods after he acknowledged infidelities and went to rehab for sex addiction."

Others have noted Woods’ career-long reluctance to engage in social commentary, even after being the butt of offensive fried chicken jokes from Fuzzy Zoeller and Sergio Garcia and angry, racially charged remarks from his ex-caddie Steve Williams. ESPN’s Michael Wallace chalked up Tiger’s silence to wanting to keep his wallet-stuffers happy.

"The Muhammad Alis, Jim Browns and Bill Russells of the turbulent 1960s have largely given way to the more lucrative, largely silent and easily marketed superstars like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan," wrote Walllace before Charlotte Bobcats owner Jordan stated he was "disgusted" and "completely outraged" by a fellow owner’s "sickening and offensive views."

John Carlos, whose silent political protest with fellow runner Tommie Smith during the 1968 Olympics became the yardstick by which athletes' social statements are measured, had an interesting take on the Sterling situation as it related to Woods.

"Why aren’t people making a bigger deal about this man’s womanizing and the way he treats women? Look how Tiger Woods was treated [by the media] and look at Donald Sterling," Carlos told The Nation’s Dave Zirin. "He is getting a pass on that part of this and I don’t like it."

Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde wondered if fans preferred athletes just to shut up and play.

"The voice is always the last attribute to come. Sometimes, with some of our greatest athletes, it never does," Hyde wrote after James on Sunday blasted as "unacceptable" Sterling’s purported repulsive remarks. "Maybe this doesn't even matter to you. Maybe all you want is your sports stars to run fast and jump high.

"Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, for instance, didn't talk against exclusionary practices at private country clubs," added Hyde. "It didn't hurt their careers."

As for Woods, it would seem, according to this long-ago interview, that the future superstar found his voice when he was 14.

"Oh, everyday. Not everyday, but every time I go to a major country club, I always feel it, can always sense it," Woods said about how often he faced prejudice as a multi-racial athlete in a predominantly white sport. "People always staring at you, ‘What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here.’

"When I go to Texas or Florida, you always feel it because they’re saying, ‘Why are you here? You’re not supposed to be here.’"

Though he may not now voice his original reasons for it, Woods primary ambition has not changed much since back then: Win the Masters.

"The way blacks have been treated there -- ‘They [African Americans] shouldn’t be there,’’" he said about Augusta National’s shameful history of racism. "If I win that tournament it will be really big for us."

Tiger Woods, the Masters franchise player according to the fallout from his injury-related absence in April, earned his first of four green jackets in 1997. With NBA commissioner Adam Silver set to make a major announcement on Tuesday, Donald Sterling, 17 years later, may finally be stripped of his franchise.

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