The author of the original article was kind enough to respond in the comments of the last post (which also contain some interesting insights from our resident soccer expert), and I was going to reply to him, but instead figured I'd just post my response here. So read his comment before this, if you want this to make any sense.
Pat: I can understand the argument that Tiger is the best athlete in the world, although I really think it's impossible to compare athletes in individual sports to those in team sports. I also think Federer might enter the discussion, even talking in terms of cracker-ass individual sports. But OK -- Tiger's the best. No problem with that claim.
But I don't think he's the world's biggest sports star, which was the phrasing that started this whole debate. It might be a matter of semantics -- these things usually are -- but "star" implies celebrity, implies notoriety and influence and fascination and so on. I simply don't agree that Tiger is the biggest athlete in the world in terms of those attributes. I'll get to the reasons in a second.
First, let me say that, with all due respect -- and that's quite a bit -- your comparison between Tiger's social relevance and that of Ali, Jackie Robinson, or even Michael Jordan is categorically, egregiously, laughably wrong. Tiger Woods won the Master's and became the greatest golfer ever. He broke a color barrier that had already been broken three decades ago. In terms of performance on the field (or course) of play, his accomplishment was probably the greatest by a black athlete ever.
But he's not even in the same conversation as Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan when it comes to social relevance. And comparing him to Jackie Robinson is absolutely ridiculous -- what, was Jesse Owens not available?
Let's just narrow it down to Ali.
Muhammad Ali was more relevant than Tiger Woods for a whole bunch of reasons, the most obvious being that he entered his prime as a black athlete during the height of the civil rights movement, was an outspoken political figure who lobbied for equality, fought in Africa, converted to an especially militant and controversial brand of Islam, refused to fight in the most controversial war this country has ever seen, and remains to this day -- more than 20 years after his retirement, as a disease-ridden shell -- one of the five most famous athletes in the world. Never mind the ridiculous Jackie Robinson comparison; what Ali did would be the equivalent of Tiger winning all of his titles, calling Jack Nicklaus a punk, getting drafted and refusing to fight in Iraq, living in exile, lobbying for reparations, changing his name to Tiger X, and winning the Afghanistan Open on international TV. And also somehow transcending his sport and making huge portions of the world care about golf just because he played it.
Tiger could never do that because, for the hundredth time, TIGER WOODS PLAYS GOLF AND NOBODY FUCKING CARES ABOUT GOLF! I don't know where you got the idea that I think most of the world cares about golf, or that golf ranks among the ten most popular sports in the world, but I don't, and it doesn't. Maybe five countries legitimately give a shit about golf, and I can almost guarantee you golf is not the most popular sport in any country in the world (I bet it's not in the top 3 anywhere). Guessing conservatively, 90% of the world has never held a golf club. I'd bet more than 80% has never seen a golf course. Hell, I'm a college-educated American, and I can't afford to play golf regularly. AMERICA IS NOT THE WORLD -- LESS THAN 6% OF THE WORLD'S POPULATION LIVES IN AMERICA! Jesus Christ, people, let's rein in our innate cultural ego for just a second and realize that Tiger Woods cannot possibly be the biggest sports star -- star, the person with the most sporting celebrity -- among 5,650,000,000 people who don't know a goddamned thing about the sport he plays. Muhammad Ali made people care about boxing because he transcended his sport through sheer personality and controversy. Tiger has no personality and shuns controversy, so he can't do that and never will.
As far as endorsements go, I really don't think the endorsements money makes for an accurate barometer of worldwide star power, because America dominates the wallets of the world, but not the hearts of sports fans. If Americans cared about soccer, the biggest soccer star in the world would instantly be the highest-paid sports star in the world. Know why? Because Americans have money. More money than just about anybody else. But poor people play sports, too, and poor people love sports, maybe even in ways we don't (see last post's comments for more on that). So his money doesn't make him the world's biggest sports star -- it makes him America's. There is a difference.
George Weah might indeed be unrecognizable to many Westerners. But he's not unrecognizable to many sports-loving people in Africa or Asia or South America (not to mention Europeans, many of whom are Westerners), and so it really doesn't matter whether 6% of the world (America) doesn't recognize him. He's still among the world's biggest sports stars.
Am I getting through here? Have I mentioned that America is not the whole world, nor does it speak for the whole world? Sweet me on a cracker, I feel like I'm talking to George W. Bush or something.
Not to mention that you never said active sports stars. So, just for kicks, here's a list of five bigger worldwide sports stars than Tiger, written in twenty seconds:
2. Jordan (no Jordan = no Nike = Tiger who?)
5. Schumacher/Ronaldinho/Ronaldo/maybe even Zidane
Now, in closing, I realize that this no longer really relates to your story's lede. Even if you do actually believe it, I'm assuming that the reason you said Tiger was the biggest sports star in the world was because he's the biggest thing to hit Tucson maybe ever, and even adding a "maybe" makes the lede sound like shit. I would have said the same thing. So I'm not saying any of this discussion had any place in your story.
I just can't believe Tiger's the biggest sports star in the entire world.