They Can't Catch That Tiger
By Radley Balko
"So we are here tonight in a kind of anti-matter protest -- an unpolitical
undemonstration by deeply uncommitted inactivists. We are part of a huge
invisible picket line that circles the White House twenty-four hours a day.
We are participants in an enormous non-march on Washington -- millions and
millions of Americans not descending upon the nation's capital in order to
demand nothing from the United States government."
-- P.J. O'Rourke,
addressing a group of libertarians in 1993
That's the creed, really, of libertarians. "Inactivism." We demand that
government do nothing to us, take nothing from us, and especially do nothing
for us (which is often the worst of the three). So to wrap up the year along
libertarian themes, I decided to choose my own "man of the year," as many
other publications do.
My "man of the year" could take on no noble causes, demand no special rights
for any identity group and call no attention to any tragic injustices. In
fact, my man of the year would have go to great pains to avoid public
advocacy. And the man I've chosen has, I believe, upheld those noble
My man of the year is the classic "inactivist." He focused all of his
energies on developing the talent and skills he was blessed with, and he
made himself a pile of money the size of Michael Moore.
And if you ask me, his inactivism spoke louder than any million mothers or
angry ethnic groups marching on Washington, tying up traffic, demanding that
we stop driving SUVs, stop purchasing handguns or that we drink coffee that's grown in the shade and harvested by Guatemalans who get dental plans.
My man of the year is Tiger Woods.
Calls for Tiger to become politically active began shortly after he won his
first Masters. "It's time he developed a voice," we were told. Tiger
declined. Black advocacy groups soon looked to him to speak out on so-called
"civil rights" issues. He demurred, and said, truth be told, he didn't
consider himself "black." And when fellow golfer Fuzzy Zoeller stuck his
foot in his mouth and made some stupid statements involving tired black
stereotypes, the same activists turned to Tiger to demand Zoeller's head on
a platter. Tiger graciously forgave him.
But just because Tiger kept silent on civil rights issues doesn't mean he
hasn't been heard. Indeed, his sheer dominance of a game long closed to
people of color -- and doing it without quotas or preferences or affirmative
action -- has made him a far more potent role model for young people of
color than any Al Sharpton-like bloviating ever could. Tiger simply wins
golf tournaments. He succeeds. He makes a ton of money.
Tiger earns my man of the year honor in part because of his past inactivism,
an in part because, this year, he brought the philosophy to a whole new
This year a new "cause" reached out and grabbed Tiger by the tail. Women's
advocate Martha Burk and New York Times editor Howell Raines simultaneously
came to the conclusion this year that as a man of African, Asian and
Caucasian descent from California, Tiger Woods has a moral responsibility to
speak up for the rights of rich, (probably) white women from Georgia to hit
golf balls at exclusive, posh country clubs.
Tiger again declined. He made the perfectly reasonable and defensible
argument that, while he may not agree with the men-only policy, Augusta
National is in fact a private club, and its members are free to associate
with whomever they please.
Raines then proceeded to devote acres and acres of precious New York Times
newsprint real estate to the important cause of the rights of women to hit
golf balls at exclusive country clubs. He even censored two of his own
sports columnists for disagreeing with him, one of whom was a Pulitzer
Prize-winner who had merely made the point that, given the spiraling
international sex trade, the third-world practice of genital mutilation, and
the pending stoning of an accused adulterer in Nigeria, perhaps there are
more important women's causes the New York Times could be pursuing than the
rights of rich southern white women to play golf.
Through all of this, Tiger Woods kept winning golf tournaments, and kept
Tiger Woods' refusal to be a pawn for leftist activists is an important
breakthrough in America's long and tired arm-wrestling with race. His
silence is in itself a powerful statement. It says that we might finally be
nearing the day when merit and achievement can transcend color, sex and
demographics. It says that achievement in itself is a form of "giving back"
to the "community." Most importantly, it secures the "rights" of successful
people of color to be able to think for themselves -- they needn't think and
say only what self-appointed civil rights leaders tell them to.
In truth, I wouldn't mind at all if Tiger Woods decided to get involved in
politics once he's put his name on all of golf's major records and decides
to retire. Given the vigor and spirit of his inactivism, I have a sneaking
suspicion he might be a libertarian.
Radley Balko is a writer living in Arlington, Va. He also maintains a weblog