They can’t catch that tiger

They can’t catch that tiger

By Radley Balko


December, 2002

“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 principles.

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 level.

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 making money.

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 at

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