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Forgive me what is almost certainly an act of sacrilege or sedition, but I find myself wondering whether Tiger Woods is playing with a full set of clubs. At the very least, it seems he might be too callow to bear the mantle we have thrust upon him. To be, in other words, the mahatma of multiculturalism he's been made out to be.

The wondering first surfaced a few months back when Woods was quoted telling off-color jokes about lesbians and blacks in a national magazine.

Now come reports of his association with a private club that is closed to women. Word is, not only can't females join the Lochinvar Golf Club of Houston, but the few who are employed there must work out of sight of men. The club's policy came to light when a female producer for CNN/Sports Illustrated arrived to do a piece on Woods' teacher, Butch Harmon, and was denied entrance. She was later allowed access to an area out of sight of club members.

Woods himself isn't a member of the club, but he practices there. His response to those who suggest that a discriminatory club is an inappropriate place for an icon of anti-discrimination? "I can't be a champion of all causes," he says.


Two things here. First of all, no one asked him to champion the cause of community -- he volunteered. Through the happenstance of his heritage and the skill of his image-makers, he positioned himself as, in Oprah Winfrey's words, "America's son." Remember the Woods commercial for Nike that dealt with golf's history of discrimination? Remember the rainbow coalition of young faces telling us, "I am Tiger Woods"?

It's no accident this young man has become emblematic of the nation's struggle with -- and hoped-for victory over -- its legacy of prejudice, racial and otherwise. He asked for the job and has had no apparent difficulty accepting the adulation and financial reward it brings. For him to respond with indifference when asked to stand and deliver is small and hypocritical.

And the second thing: As a young man of color excelling in a field that has historically been closed to people like him, how dare Tiger Woods shrug off discrimination against women as, apparently, no big deal? It burns me to see people who have known prejudice turn around and engage in -- or, in Woods' case, tolerate -- the same odious practice. Human memory is short, apparently. And human beings woefully shortsighted. How else to explain our frequent inability to see the common thread among our various biases?

I once wrote about discrimination against blacks and received a call from a white lady with a grandmotherly voice. She praised me to no end. Told me to keep pushing for equality and brotherhood. Said she'd always found African-Americans to be a delightful people.

And then, voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper, she told me that it was the "Jewboys" she really couldn't stand.

To say I was stunned is to understate by half.

How in the world can put-upon peoples -- the very ones who should know better -- always rationalize (or again, tolerate) bigotry against others? It only goes to show that our deepest biases spring from some primitive part of our selves, some place logic is hard put to reach.

I'm not saying Tiger Woods discriminates against anyone. He's a nice enough young man caught in something bigger than he is, something that belongs to Jackie Robinson, Cesar Chavez, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and every other American who ever dared believe that "all . . . created equal" meant exactly that. The challenge he faces is to become what his handlers said he already was, to rise to the level of his hype, to be worthy.

And to learn that there is a difference between surface and substance. Greatness is not a TV commercial.

The Miami Herald

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