Monday, February 19, 2007

Regarding "people," and other minor issues...

Well, since we actually agree on the main point, that makes this less fun. But I'll still take issue with some of the minor ... um, issues.

I think I stated my argument in a much more reasonable manner than you would have. If you wrote the same post as my first one, it would have probably read something like this:

"Not only is he not in the Top 50 in worldwide popularity -- Tiger Woods is just a bad golfer. His CAFHR (Course-Adjusted Fairways Hit Ratio) currently stands at 12.7. 12.7! Meanwhile, Davis Love III has a VORG of 2.819. In fact, Tiger isn't even the best black golfer in the world -- Vijay Singh's PPR (Putts Per Round) is off the charts."

Regarding Pat's history as an exaggerator, I think you're probably right. He seems more prone to questioning other people's exaggerations than to making his own. Unlike, say, you.

Regarding other points made by you:
1. Race -- I don't think non-white peoples like Tiger Woods as much as white people like to think they do. White people love him -- I don't think anybody's arguing that -- because he's a token (pun intended) of their non-racism, and by extension, of a traditionally white upper-class sport's supposed embrace of diversity. And I'm sure a fair amount of blacks and Asians are glad to see him succeeding in said lily-white sport. But I don't think a lot of those people actually watch him play golf or buy his gear. And it's also worth pointing out that Tiger wasn't even close to the first black or Asian to play on Tour.

The Nas lyric makes for an interesting artifact in regards to Tiger's standing amongst blacks. In the song "These Are Our Heroes," which is all about how white people lionize blacks who act white and promote them as credits to their race (which, btw, is one of the single most racist phrases extant). This is from the first verse:

Let's hear it, two for the spooks who do cartwheels
'Cause they said they played they parts well
Now they claim caviar, hate that oxtail
Lambda Sigma Phi badge on lapel
Whitey always tell him, "Ooh, he speak so well"
Are you the one we look to, the decent Negro?
The acceptable Negro -- hell nah
But they say, "These are our heroes"

Later, Nas annihilates Kobe (and other unnamed NBA stars) for "abusing white pussy" (actually "pus-say"). And then near the end, after naming who he considers real black heroes in the third verse (Nikki Giovanni, Miriam Makeba, Jim Brown, etc.), he has a spoken section where, in a voice that sounds sarcastic (to me), he gives "big ups" to Tiger Woods, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Taye Diggs.

Here's why I think he's taking a dig at Tiger: first, he mentions him in the same breath as Cuba Gooding Jr., who's been called a Tom more times than most people named Tom, rather than in the same verse as Jim Brown, which says something -- namely, I think, that he's being sarcastic, and insinuating that Tiger is a Tom. (And have you noticed how Jim Brown has been forced to the margins of society since his retirement, despite the fact that many think he was the greatest running back of all time? That's because white people can't embrace him, which in turn is because he seems too dangerous with his colorful hats and angry talk about equality. White people pick America's black heroes -- that's what the song is about, I think.)

Further, Nas spends the song lamenting a few things: black heroes who act white to appeal to society at large, black athletes who sleep with white women, and prominent blacks who don't "give back to the hood," so to speak.

Tiger Woods grew up in suburban California, went to Stanford, married a fluorescent white Swedish supermodel, makes hundreds of millions of dollars and keeps a very low profile on the political and humanitarian fronts -- even in regards to race. He must have watched Jordan closely as a child.

In other words, given the tone and context of his statement, I don't think Nas is seriously giving big ups to Tiger. I also don't think many middle- or lower-class blacks care much about Tiger Woods. Much of which is because ...

2. Nobody cares about golf. First I'd like to point out, my geographically challenged (and Westernist, Americanist, Northern Hemispherist, etc.) friend, that I originally said that nobody outside the US and the UK cares about golf. So your counterargument that Ireland and Scotland care about golf loses a bit of its trenchantness, considering the fact that Scotland and part of Ireland are both in the United Kindgom! Add to that a former British colony, South Africa, and Japan, and it's not exactly a compelling set of counterexamples to my point. Japan is the only country in that list that wasn't once part of Great Britain, and while I don't know much about Japanese culture, I'd be willing to bet golf isn't one of the three most popular sports there.

3. Yao Ming -- the misbegotten Mehmet Okur comparison speaks to the fact that you had no logic to support your claim about Tiger being bigger than Yao on a global scale. There's no reason to believe that's true. Yao's a 7'6" center and the first Chinese athlete to succeed in America. There are a billion people in China. It would be a stretch to say that Ichiro was bigger globally than Tiger, but I don't think it is with Yao. There's also the fact that he's emerging as a legitimately great player.

Incidentally, I think your Schumacher and Ali arguments suffer from this same Americanist focus. There's no questioning the fact that America is a cultural juggernaut. But let's not forget that America has roughly 350 million people, and the rest of the world has about 6 billion. If entire other continents -- Europe with Schumacher, Africa with Ali -- follow and care about an athlete, it's a pretty safe bet he's bigger than Tiger.

I maintain that most of the world knows Tiger Woods as that Nike spokesman who plays a sport they don't care about (and in most cases, have never seen played), and that he lacks overwhelming support from American minority groups. White people, upper-class minorities, and golf fans love him. Nobody else really does.


Bryan Rosenbaum said...

I agree, Justin: I was always under the impression that Nas' line at the end of that song was a backhanded compliment to Tiger, Cuba and Taye Diggs because they married white women and are generally disrespected by the inner city because they don't stay 'true' to the streets, even though they were never kidding anyone by saying that's where they were from (Cuba, for his excellent performance in Boyz in the Hood, still can't pass it off even then). His tone and the fact that it comes at the end of the song seems clearly sarcastic.

But that said, I don't think one should ever use Nas as a gauge to what Black America generally thinks... He's pretty fucking racist and sounds like a moron in this song. In fact, I've always had a real problem with it and it's made me lose a lot of respect for Nas, an artist who I usually love. Are you saying, as a black entreprenuer, you're upset that black people are now successful in movies and sports other than football and basketball?? Would you feel better if we called Tiger the 'Number One Stunna?'

More black people play and watch golf now than they did pre-1996, and that's because of Tiger. As Cedric the Entertainer says, call it "the post-Tiger renaissance." This is a bad thing, breaking down barriers? Is it jealousy? I'd also bet that most black people root for Tiger, simply for the fact that he's beating snobby whites at their own game on their own turf. They're not watching him in the inner city, but they want him to win anyway. That's my whole argument: we're all very impressed with Tiger and he's unquestionably the most dominant athlete we'll have in our lifetime, but people aren't living and dying with him in ways that people do with soccer players. Soccer means more to people, socially, historically, economically, etc. than all the other sports combined.

Mention George Weah to an African kid, or Roger Milla, or present day guys like Samuel Eto'o or Didier Drogba; similarly, ask a Brazilian kid about the Ronaldos. Those guys aren't names, like Tiger Woods is, they are cultural icons.

Pat said...

Because the guy from Tuesday Morning Quarterback never writes back when you talk about him, here I am.
First of all, what I wrote about Tiger was well thought-out, and I think you recognize that, as it's managed to spurn an interesting debate.
Also, I'm kinda flattered.
Here's my basis for the argument. Tiger Woods is t absolutely dominant in golf -- the likes of which no one has ever seen, in any sport -- and still manages, somehow, to be culturally relevant.
(Yes, yes, the fact that Buick and Nike and TAG Heur pay him tons of money does dilute that a bit, and I recognize that).
Nonetheless, case in point -- in 1997, Tiger Woods became the first black man to win the Masters, some 20 years after the greatest spectacle in the sport decided/was shamed into to allow black men to participate in the Greatest Spectacle in Golf.
And not only did he win it, he set a course record. He was the most dominant player to ever play that course, and he did it with the pressure bestowed upon him as a "cultural icon", knowing full well what his victory meant for the sport and his race in general.
No, this is not a race argument. But you need to recognize that he embraced his role as an embassador to the race and to the sport with aplomb. Could anyone have handled it better? Probably not.
It would be as if Jackie Robinson broke Roger Maris' home run record the first year, and went on to become unequivocally the best baseball player ever by age 31.
It would have been even bigger. As has been well-documented in the debate here, golf is one of the few sports beside our beloved soccer that actually matters in many parts of the world.
Actually, I can't think of a single comparison to what he did. Can you? Anyone?
I wrote in another golf story -- titled something like "Pat's 64 Things We Love About Match Play, and This Includes Shingo Katayama's Cowboy Hat" -- that the three greatest athletes of the past 50 years were Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan and Woods.
All were black.
All were incredibly relevant, socially; Ali because of Vietnam and the fact he practically invented smack talk (no, not rap); and Jordan because he embodied the eruption of 80s-90s wealth and its relation to sports (also, he was the greatest basketball player ever, SpaceJam notwithstanding).
Point No. 2 -- If Tiger's not the greatest athlete in sports right now, tell me who is.
No one is close. He's the best there's ever been, and has been playing essentailly for 11 years. He managed to undo 100 years of racism -- overt and otherwise -- and encouraged minorities of all kinds to take up a whites-only sport. Thirty years ago, few of those people would have been allowed on a course.
Woods also makes more in endorsements than any athlete on the planet, maybe double Beckham's total. I know your reaction to this, but, at least in Western society, sponsorship might be the true measure of an athlete's likeability and professional respect.
I realize that any argument of cultural relevance relates to, of course, the culture we live in. I am an American 26-year-old male. As much as I'd like to think I have a pretty good grasp on the sports world -- as do we all -- it's impossible for me to speak with any authority on the rest of the world.
But George Weah?
He's done unbelievable things in Liberia. He has an admirable social conscience. But he's still the biggest star in Liberia, which -- despite our global worldview here -- is stil Liberia.
He's a former African soccer player. Relevant in Liberia? Fuck yes. (I hear they're renaming Monrovia George Weahrovia). In Africa? Of course. Anywhere were soccer fans congregate? Sure.
His social conscience, again, is admirable. But he is unrecognizable to many Westerners -- unless you watched the ESPYs present the Arthur Ashe Award a few years back. Let's face it, that's a pretty big thing. Also, where does he rank among the sport's greats? Top dozen or so?
Soccer fans live and die with their players. I live an die with Jake Peavy. So what?
I believe it was Chuck D who said, "George Weah was a hero to most ... but he never meant shit to me."
Not to quote more hip-hop, but maybe that's the crux of the argument. Elvis was irrelevant to the biggest rap group in the 1980s.
Still, globally, if we all had to get a room and pick one guy, how could it not be Tiger?
To argue against Tiger is almost indefensible; it makes for a fabulous parlor game, but no one comes close.
Beckham? Washed up and got some play for marrying a pop tart. Jordan? retired. Yao? Not the best center in his freaking conference.
Baseball players? Albert Pujols sure isn't a name on the lips of anyone outside the US or Latin America.
Football? The rest of the world doesn't acknowledge it.
Tennis? Roger Federer might be the most domiannt athlete going, but if he walked in the room, would you recognize him? Have you ever heard him speak a word?
As Ryan would say, name me someone else.
Beckham? Motherfuck him and John Wayne.

St said...

Good point re: Nas, and especially with the George Weah thing, which is an example of the same phenomenon I'm talking about with Yao. When somebody is the first and best athlete from a country or region to rise to international prominence, they're embraced and supported and deified in a way completely unknown in American sports -- and in a way that I seriously doubt anybody does to Tiger Woods.

Especially in war-torn and/or oppressive places like Africa, and to a much lesser degree China. Even non-superstars like Mutumbo and Manute Bol were held up as demigods by huge swaths of Africa -- entire races and countries. You say Tiger Woods to an American and he'll tell you he's the greatest golfer who ever lived; you say Manute Bol to a Lost Boy and he'll say he grew up thinking he was the greatest person who ever lived. There's a whole long section in Dave Eggers' last novel about Bol and what he meant to the Sudanese.

Obviously I'm not saying Manute Bol is the biggest sports star in the world -- only that that kind of phenomenon is the reason why I think Yao (and any number of soccer stars) is bigger on the world stage than Tiger Woods ever could be.

Pat said...

Ste -
I too agree with the point about Weah (and countless others) being more relevant in their country than a carpet-bagger could ever be.
But that's not the argument. The point is, if you step away from those regionalized worshippers (your Ryan Howard is my Adrian Gonzalez) and tried to determine the most relevant -- on a global scale -- how could it not be Tiger?
Because a lead that says "The biggest sports star in the world (again phrased carefully) might be Tiger Woods, but if we lived in Brasil, it'd be Ronaldo," doesn't work.
If we had to pick one, how could it NOT be Tiger?