By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Even as the hero's clay toes are being exposed, it's not too soon to contemplate the redemption of Tiger Woods. I propose that he start by keeping his word to build a golf and learning center in the District.
Take it a step further: Establish it at the Langston Legacy Golf Course in Northeast, which opened in 1939 as a racially segregated course for black golfers. Langston was good enough for pioneering golfer Lee Elder and his wife, Rose, to manage in the 1970s, and it's worthy of Tiger's support.
"We're located in a part of the city where many children come from low-income households," said Jimmy Garvin, president of Langston Legacy Golf Corp. "We teach golf but do it in such a way as to encourage academic achievement. We'd love to have Tiger out here."
Greg McLaughlin, president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, had announced plans for the center in July, when Tiger was in Bethesda for the AT&T National. I asked him Tuesday how the project was coming along.
"Currently, we are evaluating two to three top sites within the District," McLaughlin said in an e-mail. "Our key criteria are safety, proximity to public transportation, availability of land and cost."
Langston, at 26th Street and Benning Road NE, is closer to some public housing complexes than it is to a Metro subway line. Some might see safety and proximity as issues, certainly compared with other possible locations in more upscale parts of the city.
But avoiding low-income black communities because they are perceived as unsafe and inaccessible only perpetuates a cycle of socioeconomic isolation. After a while, it starts to appear as if the misery is being created by design.
"Our concern is that Tiger, in looking for the most ideal location, will end up putting the learning center in a place that is inaccessible to our kids," Garvin said. "There are so many youngsters out here who are interested in golf because of Tiger. But the window for taking advantage of their interest does not stay open very long. We need to grab them while we can."
Make no mistake: McLaughlin runs a superb foundation. His efforts have helped Tiger touch the lives of more than 10 million youngsters through scholarships, grants, the establishments of golf teams and other programs offered by the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif. The center in the District would be the second.
But the issue is not so much about charity as it is Tiger's courage and commitment. Think of the challenge posed by Langston's location in golf terms: Tiger's claim to fame is the complete dominance of rough terrain; he has never been intimidated by geography.
Don't start shanking on us now, pal.
Tiger needs to understand that even the most routine interaction can lead to perception problems at a place such as Langston. Janice Arrington, assistant manager at the Langston course, recalled her interpretation of a moment at the AT&T National when Tiger was signing autographs.
"One of our boys, who is 14, was holding out a Langston cap for Tiger to sign, and another boy, who happened to be white, pushed his hand aside just as Tiger approached," she said. "Tiger saw what happened but gave the white boy an autograph, then turned his back on our child and walked away. That's when I fell out with Tiger."
In the end, helping to reinvigorate a historic black golf course might not burnish Tiger's reputation. But taking a personal interest in budding golfers from some of the city's toughest neighborhoods would go a long way toward transforming his humiliation into humility.
After all, his apparent marital infidelity is but a symptom; pride and arrogance are at the root of his downfall.
"I think he felt entitled to do as he pleased and figured that the rules didn't apply to him," said Laurence Jackson, a black psychologist in Washington who said he started playing golf because of Tiger.
In a message posted on his Web site last week, Tiger said that he "had not been true to my values." He cites among his values "integrity, honesty, discipline and responsibility."