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Friday, April 9, 2010

Tiger Woods and the sanctimonious old white guy

Billy Payne is Chairman of Augusta National the most revered golf course in America. It’s where they’re currently playing the Masters, the most revered tournament in America, and also the only major tournament played at the same course since time immemorial. It’s also the scene of Tiger Woods return to golf after he got himself into a wee little bit trouble. Everything is reverential in Augusta right now, the TV commentators speak in hushed tones and all the old golfing greats show up, hit a few balls and parade around in the ugly green jackets that only past winners get. Billy Payne also gets to wear one which seems to allow him to be a sanctimonious prick.

In a press conference on Wednesday Payne lit into Tiger Woods in a way that showed little if the reverence one should show when wearing the ugly green jacket. Tiger already owns four of them. Here is part of what he said,

"As he ascended in our rankings of the world's great golfers, he became an example to our kids that success is directly attributable to hard work and effort. But as he now says himself, he forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility.

It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here -- it is the fact he disappointed all of us, and more importantly our kids and our grandkids. Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children."

The folks that run the Masters like to think it’s still the 1950’s. For better or worse it isn’t. and today most of us with a sentient brain don’t expect our sports idols to fulfill this idealized ‘role model’ fantasy. I’m sure kids just learning to play golf aren’t tut-tutting around like Billy Payne. If anything, they’re probably even more motivated, knowing that their ‘role model’ doesn’t just make a shitload of money; he also gets to hang out with porn stars.

Payne was speaking for Augusta National which has its own ‘role model’ problem. Their reverence for an idealized version of a bygone era is included some of the less savory aspects of that time such as racism. Obviously no one had told them about the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s because they finally accepted their first black member in 1990 after some pressure and the fear that they might lose the Masters. The PGA, being fairly retro themselves finally decided to put pressure on a private club in Alabama in the late 1980’s to forego their ‘whites only’ policy or lose a PGA tournament.

Then in 2002 the club got into a duel with the National Council of Women’s Organizations over admitting female members. Private clubs can legally restrict membership but the argument is that they cannot discriminate and host the Masters. There are now 2 women on the membership waiting list but the club is still an all-male bastion.

The club apparently doesn’t discriminate in hiring employees. They have no problem hiring black and female employees. I think Tiger Woods can forget about being invited to become a member when his playing days are over. This way, he won’t have to worry about old men in ugly green jackets peering over his shoulder to see what’s on his IPhone.

Disclaimer: I play golf, not as often as I would like, and I’m not very good and I will be watching golf this weekend in awe of the skills of the best. I will be as reverential as necessary.

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