WHEN PRO GOLFER Tiger Woods won the Masters two weeks ago, it was all I could do to suppress a yawn. Much ado was made about young Woods being the first black to win the Masters, but my basic reaction was, "Hey, it's only golf."
Ah, yes, golf. That sport television networks use to deliberately bore football, baseball, basketball and hockey fans. That sport with all the action of a flea circus. I've seen funerals more exciting than golf.
No, I just couldn't get swept up in the euphoria. An African-American winning the Masters is not a milestone. A dwarf winning the Masters, on the other hand, is a milestone.
Besides, this is the time of year I'm supposed to be hunkered down in front of a television set somewhere, hissing and snapping and glaring at anyone who disturbs me before mid-June. That's when the National Basketball Association playoffs are over. For me, other sports don't even exist between April and June.
There were lots of folks cheering when Woods won the Masters. I wasn't one of them. If I wasn't a golf fan before he won, why should I be now? Just because the guy's black? My mind, when it operates at all, doesn't operate that way.
All of the above is how I initially felt about Woods' victory. But then things got interesting. Things got to be fun, as the following time line indicates:
Thursday, April 17: Speaking at West Middle School in Carroll County, I got the inevitable question. "What do you think of Tiger Woods?" one of the students asked. I prepared to go into my anti-golf tirade, but thought better.
"These are kids," I said to myself. "Why be a wet blanket now? I can be that anytime." Instead, I said that if Woods' victory gets more blacks interested in playing golf -- as boring as it is -- and off playing basketball, then his victory was indeed a milestone.
(Anyone detecting an inconsistency here -- my passion for the NBA playoffs and wanting fewer blacks playing basketball -- should be advised my favorite player is not Michael Jordan. It's not Scottie Pippen or Grant Hill or Hakeem Olajuwon either. It's Steve "Superscrub" Kerr of the Chicago Bulls. He's the reason I'll be watching the playoffs. America may need many things. More black basketball players is not one of them.)
Sunday, April 20: Professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller gets out of bed and decides he's going to make a total jackass of himself. Nothing wrong with that. All of us have those days. It's just that most of us decide not to go public with it. Speaking of Woods, Zoeller referred to him as "that little boy" and urged him not to select fried chicken and collard greens at next year's Champions Dinner.
The following Monday Zoeller was backtracking faster than Muhammad Ali ever did in the boxing ring. It was all a joke, he said. He didn't mean anything, he said.
"Yeah, right," said a guy who called me and identified himself only as Bob. About two months ago, Bob said a local college basketball coach's comparing running his team to a plantation was an example of an undercurrent of white racism in America. That coach, as did Zoeller, said he meant no harm. Bob believes a lingering white racism, culturally ingrained, makes such comments inevitable, and, Zoeller's disclaimer notwithstanding, not funny.
I tend to agree with Bob. Zoeller apparently didn't learn the lesson Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg provided a few years back. If you're going to indulge in ethnic humor, it had better be satirical, and you had better be damn good at it.
"Anybody who knows me knows that I'm a jokester," Zoeller claimed. Yeah, but Mark Twain you ain't, Fuzzy.
Wednesday, April 23: Newspaper reports say Woods feels uncomfortable being called African-American and refers to himself as a "Cablinasian." Where are the linguistics police when they're really needed? This gobbledygook is supposed to be a combination of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. Woods claims them all as part of his racial heritage.
But the fact is most black Americans have a mixed racial heritage. Imagine the confusion on the Census forms if we start to claim them all. Technically, I'm African-Franco-American, courtesy of a French great-great-great-grandmother. I prefer to simplify matters and simply refer to myself as either black or African-American. Great-great-great-grandma will just have to understand.
Folks consider me a meanie for being against interracial marriage. But one of the myriad reasons I am is so that words like "Cablinasian" do not become part of the language. I feel the simplest way to identify race is to look at your physical characteristics and determine which one predominates. In Woods' case, the predominant one is clearly black.
Or we can give Woods the cab test. Stand him on a street corner in any large American city and have him hail a cab. If he gets one, he's Cablinasian. If he doesn't, he's definitely black.
But there is one fact of which we can all be certain. If it transpires that Woods is, say, an ax murderer, no ethnic group in the country is going to claim him.
Pub Date: 4/27/97