By Dave Zirin
November 30, 2009
During the Bill Clinton impeachment idiocy of 1998, many on the left said that if Clinton were removed from office, let it be for gutting welfare or for imposing sanctions on Iraq, and not l’affaire Lewinsky.
Today, Tiger Woods, the famous, wealthy and most PR-conscious athlete on earth, finally finds himself subject to scrutiny. But, similar to Clinton’s scandal, his scandal has more to do with his personal life than more substantive issues. The media has staked out his Isleworth home for round-the-clock coverage about a bizarre “car accident” this past week involving his wife, a fire hydrant and a golf club. The questions being posed are as breathless as they are weightless: “Were Tiger’s facial lacerations the result of the car crash, or an attack from his wife, Elin?” “Is this about the rumored ‘other woman’ in New York City?” “Did Elin Woods smash the rear of his car with a golf club to rescue Tiger, or was she smashing up the car as he pulled away?” One last question: Who the hell cares? Granted, there is a “man bites dog” aspect to this story. In Woods’s roughly fourteen years in the public eye, he has never even been caught littering. His image has been cemented as a man of ungodly intensity.
This squeaky-clean reputation has helped Woods become the richest athlete in history. His career course earnings are $92 million. When you factor in advertisements, corporate appearances and other off-course aspects of “Tiger Inc.,” it makes sense that Tiger Woods is America’s first athlete to reach billionaire status.
As the saying goes, behind every great fortune is a great crime. Following his car “accident,” Woods’s agent says it’s unclear whether he will attend his foundation’s Chevron World Challenge Golf Tournament. In 2008 Chevron entered a five-year relationship with Tiger Woods’s foundation under the guise of philanthropy. But if Woods had a shred of social conscience, this partnership never would have existed. Lawsuits have been issued against Chevron for dumping toxic waste all over the planet. Alaska, Canada, Brazil, Angola and California have all accused Chevron of dumping. Even worse, Chevron has a partnership with Burma’s ruling military junta on the country’s Yadana gas pipeline project, the single greatest source of revenue for the military, estimated at nearly $5 billion since 2000.
Ka Hsaw Wa, co-founder and executive director of EarthRights International, wrote in an open letter to Woods, “I myself have spoken to victims of forced labor, rape, and torture on Chevron’s pipeline–if you heard what they said to me, you too would understand how their tragic stories stand in stark contrast to Chevron’s rhetoric about helping communities.” Chevron is underwriting a dictatorship, but Tiger Woods apparently sees them as upstanding corporate partners.
Then there is Dubai, site of the first Tiger Woods-designed golf course. Located at the southern coast of the Persian Gulf, Dubai has been a symbol of economic excess and, most recently, economic collapse. It has been called an “adult Disneyland”–complete with indoor ski resorts and unspeakable human rights violations. As Johann Hari wrote in the Independent, it is a city that has been built over the past thirty years by slave labor. Paid foreign laborers work in more than 100-degree heat for less than $3 a day. Dubai also has a reputation as ground zero of the global sex trade. The project cost $100 million, and Woods said nary a word about his benefactor’s practices. This is business as usual for Woods who would sooner swallow a five-iron than take anything resembling a political stand.
Now that Woods appears to have been involved in a domestic dispute, the media are wondering if there is “another Tiger.” They are desperate to pillory the man for his personal problems. It would be more appropriate if they took this opportunity to scrutinize him for the right reasons. Woods has every right to keep his personal problems personal. But when he makes deals that benefit dictatorships and unaccountable corporations, all in the name of his billion-dollar brand, he deserves no privacy.
About Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin is The Nation‘s sports editor. He is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com and The Progressive. He is the host of Sirius/XM’s Edge of Sports Radio. more…