Has Tiger Woods helped clear the way for Barack Obama?

Has Tiger Woods helped clear the way for Barack Obama?

Like Woods, Obama seems to largely transcend racial issues.
Rick Friedman/Corbis (Obama); Robert Beck (Woods)

There’s something happening here. When Tiger Woods won his first Masters, in 1997, most every story noted that he was the first African-American to win at Augusta. Back then, the exotic ancestral history of Woods — his black father, his Thai mother — was an engaging subject. But now, with Tiger in our living rooms one weekend after another, it hardly ever comes up. Familiarity breeds comfort. We’ve moved on.

And now, at warp speed and on a scale that dwarfs anything to do with sport, something similar is happening with Barack Obama. We know about his black father from Kenya and his white mother from Kansas. But when you watch Obama in a televised debate, or see him on the evening news, are you thinking about his race? The man won Iowa! Zach Johnson, the Masters champion, is from Iowa.

So the question here in the toy department is this: Has Tiger Woods — simply by conducting his business the way he does — helped make the country more tolerant? And if you believe he has, do you think Woods, in a way no CNN pie chart could ever capture, has helped pave the way for Barack Obama? Discuss.

Don’t expect Tiger to post a comment on your blog. He talks politics on his plane, not in the press tent. But he’s following the presidential campaigns closely. John McCain is a decorated Vietnam veteran, as was Tiger’s father, Earl. Hillary Clinton’s husband, the former First Golfer, stood on a California stage with Woods at the opening of the Tiger Woods Learning Center in 2006. Obama, like Woods, knows that the continental drift is now in reverse. (Look how each got here.) The campaigns have approached Tiger’s people, but none of the candidates has directly asked for his endorsement. They must know his M.O.

The act of endorsing is presumptuous, and Tiger is not. He’s modest. Even with friends he doesn’t say, “Look what happens to the TV ratings when I play. ” The Nielsen numbers speak for themselves, just as his golf scores do. He likes precision. He’ll tell you how many kids are enrolled at his learning center, but he would never try to analyze his impact on race relations. For that, to use a fancy Mitt Romney word, there’s no metric.

As a rookie, Tiger appeared in a Nike spot in which he said, “There are still courses in the United States that I am not allowed to play because of the color of my skin. ” He wouldn’t recite that line today, chiefly because every last course would welcome him now — but also because Tiger has no use for grand and sweeping oratory. He’s a golfer, not a pol.

Tiger in grand terms, that was his father’s specialty. In ’96, when Tiger was SI’s Sportsman of the Year for the first time, Earl said, “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity. ” The father went on to say, “He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power. “

At the time, it sounded like crazy talk. Actually, it still does. But less so all the time.