The predominantly white faces that provided the backdrop for Tiger Woods’ dramatic and implausible victory Sunday at the Masters represented this country’s penchant for selective forgiveness. The 43-year-old icon was exuberantly celebrated for authoring an against-all-odds rise back to the top of his sport after his life and career were a shambles following a stay in rehab for depression and four back surgeries.
Woods’ many extramarital dalliances, addiction to pain killers and DUI in Florida in May 2017 when a toxicology report revealed traces of five different drugs in his system including Hydrocodone, an opioid pain medication, and the anxiety drug Xanax, were relatable to countless people that have shown empathy and admiration toward Woods as he undergoes a rebirth as a man and athlete.
No such sentiments have been extended to Colin Kaepernick.
The 31-year-old former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has been a model citizen in the classic sense of the definition. But in the eyes of much of white America, he is a threat to their cultural norms for daring to exercise his First Amendment right to silently protest, which Kaepernick did by kneeling on the sideline during the ceremonial presentation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the start of his NFL games.
For that he has been effectively blackballed by NFL owners and vilified by Donald Trump. The hypocrisy is palpable. Many of the anti-abortion Trump base have castigated Kaepernick for advocating for social justice, most notably the shooting and killing of unarmed Black man by law enforcement personnel. Trump said earlier this week that he will present Woods with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The message from the group of Kaepernick detractors that cheer and praise Woods is unambiguous: putting others’ lives in jeopardy by driving under the influence and being less than an exemplary husband and father is far less abhorrent than trying to save the lives of Black boys and men.
Woods and Kaepernick are both bi-racial athletes but are viewed through distinctly different prisms by those that fear and are fiercely resisting social, cultural and political change in America.
Woods, who once appeared on “The Mike Douglas Show” with entertainment legends Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart as a two-year-old golfing prodigy with his father, the late Earl Woods, foreshadowing the greatness that was to come, has crafted a race neutral persona. In contrast, Kaepernick has embraced his Blackness and the power to effect change.
The younger Woods, whose mother Kultida is from Thailand, is acutely aware of the overt racism experienced by his father, an African-American who was raised in the Jim Crow era. The elder Woods, a catcher for the Kansas State baseball team in the early 1950s, was prohibited from playing a game at a college in Mississippi due to the color of his skin.
Furthermore, Tiger and Earl, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Special Forces, were sometimes shunned at golf courses in Southern California, where Tiger was born and raised, when Tiger was a young boy in more subtle acts of racism.
Woods has chosen to be politically correct in his commentary of Trump. Kaepernick has been unfiltered in his criticism of the justice system. Tiger is lauded while Kaepernick is maligned. It is a tale of a duplicitous America.