Tiger Woods will spend the winter licking his wounds and pondering his revised feline moniker—now dubbed the “Lion Cheetah” in the blogosphere for his reported string of marital indiscretions.
And although I wouldn’t want to be walking in his shoes right now, as a biracial black guy from California just a few years older than the golf legend, I sort of am Tiger Woods.
Well, not really.
On the surface, I should have been part of his fan club from the beginning. But his early public persona as a cross-cultural messiah was a "no sale" for me. Rooting for Woods didn’t just mean admiring his dominance on the golf course; it felt like cosigning his too-convenient status as a racial conscientious objector.
But a dozen years and one scandal later, Tiger doesn’t carry that banner anymore. As Jenée Desmond-Harris writes, he got the post-racial life he always wanted. Now he’s just another talented athlete with personal demons. And now I might be able to pull for him.
Twelve years ago, on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Woods anointed himself with that most unfortunate portmanteau, “Cablinasian,” his childhood shorthand for his cultural roots. It sounded like an overly cute, intellectually frustrating code word for “I’m not just black.”
Most multiracial Americans try to embrace all our component ethnicities while recognizing that in the real world, frequently, what counts is the part that’s not white. “Cablinasian” was an epic fail by any standard except the one concerned with selling upscale golf attire to refugees of the identity politics wars of the '90s.
Whether it was his own sense of self or a cynical pitch to a post-Mariah, pre-Obama audience looking for a relatable black guy to get down with—or both—Woods’ Cablinasian image made him seem unique. But while biracial people are indeed different, Tiger’s pre-post-racial vibe backfired because he apparently thought that it made him special. It turns out he's just like everyone else—in the worst kind of way.
I wonder what they’d say about him now back home in Cablinasia?
“Tiger” camouflaged “Eldrick,” Woods’ unmistakably black given name. Until now, it disguised a full-grown billionaire with a wife and two kids as a two-dimensional, asexual, racially ambiguous golf wunderkind.
For a long time, to be portrayed as something beyond merely golf’s version of Grant Hill (Eldrick Woods, at your service) and to succeed in a sport that was played and watched overwhelmingly by white fans, Woods angled to be seen as something more than black. He maintained his outsider status to draw interest but blended in to put people at ease.
Like President Barack Obama, he appeals to everyone. Unlike Obama, he downplayed his blackness and his Asian-ness. Doing so made him rich—and boring. And he could never live up to this debut:
So now that we’ve learned that Woods’ wife may have tagged him with a sand wedge, we recall GQ’s early report that he was once a frat-less frat boy who liked telling "dick" jokes.
We’re reminded that he left Stanford early to turn pro, just like all those standout non-Cablinasian basketball players said to be ruining college athletics.
He went from being America’s next top mulatto to rehabbing a bum knee, playing second fiddle to the president and, now, having his inner Tucker Max outed.
But as I see it, he has also gone from being a deliberately bland, pre-fab underdog to a live antihero looking for redemption (even if another NAACP Image Award is most likely out of the question).
It’s not anyone’s place to disown him (except for, perhaps, his wife). But now that he's been emancipated from being an ad exec’s idea of a young, non-white role model, I can start thinking of him as one of my own.
Maybe Woods should have started out aiming for a little more Charles Barkley and a little less Gandhi, saying, “I’m Asian American and African American; I’m starting a family with a Swedish au pair, and I’ll spot anyone one stroke per hole.” Maybe he wouldn’t have sold as much swag, but someone like me would have been on board all along. I might be at the driving range right now.
In the short run, getting knocked down a peg means that Woods is more in need of a lawyer (and some ointment) than a caddy or swing coach. In the long run, his “transgressions” make him look more like an actual human being.
For the first time, I genuinely want to know whether he can break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. I want to tune in next time he’s walking up the 18th fairway on a Sunday, because he’s not a faux biracial superhero anymore: Golf (and money) is all he’s got. If he pulls it off, he’ll finally earn all the hype. He might really be the great beige hope. And the next time he says, “I am Tiger Woods,” it might actually mean something.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.