Tooth­less Tiger happy in his ivory tower in­dif­fer­ence

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT / GAELIC GAMES - TOMMY CONLON THECOUCH@IN­DE­PEN­DENT.IE

LAST week Tiger Woods openly ac­cepted the pos­si­bil­ity that he might never play an­other round of com­pet­i­tive golf. But it wasn’t this ad­mis­sion that made the 41-yearold sound like yes­ter­day’s man. Nor was it the fact that he was once No 1 on planet golf for a record 683 weeks and is now ranked 1,142; or that he hasn’t played a tour­na­ment since his aborted comeback in Fe­bru­ary after a 16-month lay-off; or that he’s had four back op­er­a­tions on a body that has been break­ing apart for sev­eral years. He ad­dressed these is­sues in sur­pris­ingly cheer­ful tones at a press con­fer­ence for the Pres­i­dents Cup on Wed­nes­day.

It was when he was asked a ques­tion about the es­ca­lat­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in Amer­i­can sport that he sounded like a by­gone relic.

Five days ear­lier the White House in­cum­bent had in­flamed the con­tro­versy by re­fer­ring to any NFL player who re­fused to stand for the na­tional an­them as a “son of a bitch”. In his speech in Alabama, Pres­i­dent Turnip called on NFL own­ers to fire these play­ers.

Colin Kaeper­nick of the San Fran­cisco 49ers was the first ma­jor African-Amer­i­can sports­man to refuse to stand for the pre-game an­them, in Au­gust 2016. In­spired by the ‘Black Lives Mat­ter’ move­ment that was mo­bil­is­ing na­tion­wide in protest at po­lice killings, Kaeper­nick said he could no longer do nothing. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag of a country that op­presses black peo­ple and peo­ple of colour. To me, this is big­ger than football and it would be self­ish on my part to look the other way. There are bod­ies in the street and peo­ple get­ting away with mur­der.”

There had been spo­radic demon­stra­tions by other teams be­fore and after him but they hadn’t caught fire. Kaeper­nick was more or less left to dan­gle out there on his own. He has paid a high price. Last March he parted com­pany with the 49ers. He has not been signed by any NFL fran­chise de­spite a wide­spread con­sen­sus that vastly in­fe­rior quar­ter­backs have since been re­cruited ahead of him.

Per­haps mind­ful of his iso­lated fate, most of his peers across all pro sports re­mained quiet. A po­ten­tially pow­er­ful protest cam­paign among some of Amer­ica’s most high-pro­file black fig­ures never got off the ground. It had al­most pe­tered out un­til the Turnip threw a can of gaso­line on the em­bers in Alabama.

LeBron James, the basketball su­per­star, re­acted on Twit­ter by call­ing the Pres­i­dent a “bum”. And over a week­end of NFL games, the Kaeper­nick ges­ture fi­nally caught fire. Dozens of play­ers from the Bal­ti­more Ravens and Jack­sonville Jaguars went down on one knee dur­ing the play­ing of the an­them. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery player on the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers ros­ter re­mained in their locker room while the

Star Span­gled Ban­ner was played out­side. The Seat­tle Sea­hawks and Ten­nessee Titans did like­wise.

Then, be­fore the Mon­day night game, Amer­i­can football fans were treated to the in­con­gru­ous sight of Jerry Jones also tak­ing a knee, his arms linked in a line of play­ers all down on one knee too, their heads bowed. They then all stood in uni­son for the ac­tual play­ing of the song. Owner of the Dal­las Cow­boys, Jones is the quin­tes­sen­tial rich, aged and south­ern Repub­li­can party man. He had actually do­nated $1 mil­lion to the Trump elec­tion cam­paign.

Two days later, there­fore, when Woods fetched up for his press con­fer­ence in Jersey City, it was still dom­i­nat­ing the news agenda. Ev­ery­one from fans on­line to play­ers in locker rooms were hav­ing their say. And if an arch-con­ser­va­tive like Jerry Jones felt a public snub to the Pres­i­dent was ac­cept­able, surely Woods would fi­nally get off the fence too, for once in his life?

Nah. “Hope­fully things can be healed,” he replied when asked for an opin­ion. “We can progress as a na­tion and come to­gether, not just only the near fu­ture, but for per­pe­tu­ity.” He couldn’t have sounded more out of touch and dis­con­nected if he was Howard Hughes.

We all know that for 20 years he chased the cor­po­rate dol­lar to the ex­clu­sion of all else, not least ex­press­ing any view­point that might re­motely com­pro­mise his vast pay­load. On the all-con­sum­ing is­sue of racism, even though he’d been a vic­tim him­self, he just didn’t want to know. He be­longed to a gen­er­a­tion of sport­ing gods, like Michael Jor­dan, Charles Barkley and OJ Simp­son, who turned their backs on the cam­paign­ing legacy of ath­lete-ac­tivists such as Jackie Robin­son, Arthur Ashe, Bill Rus­sell, Tom­mie Smith, John Car­los and of course Muham­mad Ali.

But when some­one like LeBron James takes a stand, it is a re­buke not only to Trump, to racist cops and the es­tab­lish­ment in gen­eral, it is a re­buke also to the likes of Woods and their ivory tower in­dif­fer­ence. James is a cor­po­rate be­he­moth too. He could also use that ex­cuse: can’t rock the boat in case some cash falls out of it.

Kaeper­nick said he could not con­tinue “to look the other way”. Tiger spent his sto­ried ca­reer look­ing the other way. When he was great on the course, he was the big­gest sports­man in the world. Now that the ta­lent has de­serted him, he is just a walk­ing void. He can’t play, and still he has nothing to say. Woods will never be ob­scure but, last week, he never seemed so ir­rel­e­vant.

He couldn’t have sounded more out of touch

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