Editor’s Note: Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM WURD. The views expressed here are solely hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
I’m not mad at Tiger Woods, never have been.
But I get why so many people have always wanted more from the man. In his 23-year-career, the golf great has been idolized, then demonized, and now almost idolized again — until he showed up at the White House Monday and let President Trump put the Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck.
Then, the long list of resentments returned:
Why can’t Woods be more political, more liberal, more socially conscious, some asked. He needs to act more black, talk about racism, give more back to the community. And, could he (please) date a black woman, or at least a brown one?
This week, many suggested Tiger should be more like Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who refused to step foot in the White House on a team trip to celebrate their 2018 World Series win.
The ever-changing, unwritten rules that govern black and brown lives are not taken lightly. And that, at times, can be frustrating.
Just ask Tiger.
Woods was loudly criticized by the left and those who dislike President Trump after his visit to the White House. Some felt he should have rejected the award. I disagree. Despite his detractors, Tiger stood by his friendship with Trump. “We’ve played golf together. We’ve had dinner together. I’ve known him pre-presidency…He’s the President of the United States and you have to respect the office,” Woods told Yahoo Sports.
Meanwhile Cora, who is from Puerto Rico, was cheered by some (but not by the right) for opting out of celebrating with Trump. Cora has criticized the president’s response after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, reportedly leaving more than 3,000 people dead last year. The island is still struggling to fully recover from the tragedy.
Woods and Cora both made the right decision for them. Both men have stood by their convictions with grace, and thankfully, without adding to the angry political talk that has infected our conversations.
I’m happy for Tiger Woods.
Watching him accept his award felt like sweet redemption in a career of professional triumphs, debilitating physical injuries and personal scandals. The 43-year-old golf great has always had a fickle relationship with those in the black community who took exception to Woods early on when he insisted on defining his own racial identity. Woods’ father, Earl, who died in 2006, was an outspoken, proud black man and Army lieutenant colonel. His mom, Kultida, is from Thailand.
Call me “Cablinasian,” a young Tiger told the media when he became a star, in an attempt to blend his ethnicities. Many laughed at him back then. They wanted Tiger’s “black card” revoked — a threat often made when folks don’t live up to old-school notions of what it means to be black in America. But I respected Woods’ pride in his heritage and his refusal to be defined by others. Later came that messy divorce in 2010 and his indefinite break from golf, punctuated by injury. Women railed against him, acted as if Woods was the first man to ever cheat. Come on, now.
Alex Cora has no friendly feelings for Trump.
“[In Puerto Rico] Some people still lack basic necessities, others remain without electricity and many homes and schools are in pretty bad shape almost a year and a half after Hurricane Maria struck,” Cora told the New York Times, taking the stance of many athletes who have refused to visit the Trump White House.
I share his discontent.
Still, today’s savage political climate has made too many of us prisoners, trapped behind the walls of identity politics. We’re told to hate Trump if we are black, Latino, Muslim, immigrant, Democrat, or, female. We’re labeled traitors to our race, gender and religion unless we denounce the president at every turn. Republicans rabidly defend Trump, no matter how toxic his behavior.
This is not what freedom looks like, not to me.
The freedom I fight for is the type that means all of us, Tiger included, have the right to walk into that White House — built by black hands — with our head held high. Exactly as Tiger did when he shook the president’s hand and accepted his medal, tearing up as he spoke of his love for his mother and father, Earl, who taught him the game.
“I’ve battled. I’ve tried to hang in there, and I’ve tried to come back and play the great game of golf again,” Woods told us.
Tiger has never talked much of politics or race. But as a sports journalist, I met Tiger a few times and have watched him since he won his first of five Masters tournaments in 1997. He was 21. I vividly remember the racial discrimination, the fried chicken jokes, the condescending attitudes, the hostile climate at The Masters toward black golf fans and even journalists like me. I know his climb to becoming one of the greatest golfers the world has ever known was never easy.
Leave Tiger alone. It’s time.
We don’t need every pro athlete to be an activist for social justice like LeBron James or Colin Kaepernick. We can still watch and learn.
In their differences, Tiger Woods and Alex Cora are reminders that America belongs to us, all black and brown people, regardless of our politics. She is our country to claim and to criticize. Our countless contributions to every facet of American life cannot be denied. Many have tried but we know the truth.
This is why Tiger Woods was right to visit the White House. Conversely, it’s the reason Alex Cora can protest a president whom he believes has failed his people, the American citizens of Puerto Rico.
They don’t need your permission. And with or without their black card, I salute them both.