The Hate Crime: A Question Tiger Woods must Answer

“I became aware of my racial identity on my first day of school, on my first day of kindergarten. A group of sixth graders tied me to a tree, spray-painted the word ‘nigger’ on me, and threw rocks at me. That was my first day of school. And the teacher really didn’t do much of anything.”

Those are not the words of a Scottsboro Boy or Civil Rights icon John Lewis. It's not culled from a historical text by Howard Zinn or a novel by Alice Walker. It's a memory from the mind of golfing great/tabloid target, Tiger Woods. First recounted in a 1997 interview with Barbara Walters and later recorded for posterity in Charles Barkley's book Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man, it's a story the privacy-obsessed Woods has actually shared sparingly.  

It's also a story that last week was called a flat out lie. Tiger’s kindergarten teacher at the time, Maureen Decker, held a press conference on Friday and said, "I am asking Tiger for a private and public apology to put my mind at ease and set the record straight.” This isn’t the first time Decker has made this charge. In 2004, with zero fanfare, she told writer Howard Sunes of the incident, saying, “It’s untrue. Absolutely untrue. None of it ever happened.”  

But now, as “getting Tiger” has become a speculative growth industry, Decker finds herself in demand. On Friday, she was flanked by superstar attorney Gloria Allred ) in front of an army of cameras. (Allred, as official counsel of Get Tiger, Inc., also represents Tiger’s mistress Joslyn James .) As Allred scowled on the dais, the 69-year-old Decker repeated something other writers have charged: that Tiger’s father Earl made the story up to burnish his son’s history as a young man who had suffered on his road to greatness.

As Tiger Woods faces the Augusta National press corps on Monday, he actually has a responsibility to respond to Ms. Decker.  Forget the sexting and the strippers. Tiger should be indignant at the mere thought that he would lie about something so searing, so inhuman, and so utterly tragic.  

He should speak out on behalf of any child forced to suffer a hate crime only to be ignored when they sought help. We live in a country where children are driven by humiliation and violence to commit suicide before their tenth birthday. Often they their complaints are ignored until it’s too late. Here is an opportunity for Tiger to open up about his private past for a higher purpose. It also has political implications: the Fox News Right loves nothing more than calling victims of racism liars.

Most of us could care less about Tiger’s mistresses and his trainwreck of a personal life. That affects no one except himself, his family, and the various parasites connected to his billion-dollar brand. But Ms. Decker’s accusation actually has a ripple effect that touches far too many lives. If Tiger was the victim of a hate crime, he needs to bravely own the experience and tell the world that Maureen Decker is the worst kind of liar: a teacher who didn’t protect a child and is now using the fog of the sex scandal to seek public redemption.  

But if there is a shred of legitimacy to Maureen Decker’s accusation, then Tiger has an absolute duty to explain himself. The implications would both damn the legacy of Earl Woods and further complicate our understanding of Tiger’s decidedly unusual childhood.

I personally cannot believe that the Woods family would ever lie about being a victim of racist violence. I don’t believe it because the entire marketing strategy behind Tiger, and masterminded by his father, was to make him an avatar of post-racial “Cablinasian” commercial nirvana. Earl once said that his goal for Tiger was to be, “the bridge between the East and the West.” The aim of this post-racial strategy was for Tiger to be able to play in restrictive country club venues without having to publicly confront the reality of racism in the golf world and complicate his commercial appeal. Being a hate crime victim doesn’t fit this utopian script. Unless Earl Woods was a sociopath, Tiger must be telling the truth. 

In the name of his father and in the name of countless children, Tiger has the opportunity on Monday to set the record straight. Unlike everything else in Tiger’s tale, this is a story that actually matters.

[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

11 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Tiger Woods Hate crime

As a professional reporter/writer, do you not apply a reasonable test to storys that you are told? Ie, does it seem reasonable that a 4 or 5 year old child (kinderdergarten) would be exposed to 11 or 12 year old 6th graderss while attending kindergarten? If he was, it's different than any school i've known and I've raised 4 children to adult hood (Late 30's to mid 40's) and their children have all gone through kindergarten and are now in public schools in Huntsville, Al. I believe the story is an out and out lie and is a distraction for the sexual mess he is now involved with. The spin that professional writers such as yourself put on such stories, even though, you try make it sound as if you may be questioning the story coutch your comments in such inuendo and plausibility as to support the Wood's lie, even though there is certainly more reason to doubt Tiger's and his Father's truthfulness than to doubt the word of a school teacher who has devoted her life to the betterment of all children.

In the name of all faithful teachers and the countless chidren they teach and protect each day. You have a responsibility to assure any thing you write does not have a spin that serves to support the Wood's hate crime lie.

Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Not So Quick

Jack,

Are you insinuating that Tiger planted this woman and her attorney in some elaborate ploy to distract from what he has done off the putting green or are you just too dull to comprehend a sequence of events? As it seems, this woman came forward at this moment, a time in which 'getting Tiger' is easiest, to assail a story he had told many moons ago about her lack of decency as a teacher and as a human. Her memory of the story sounds shady, to say the least, as she cites how neither she nor the school board remember such an incident, which really is no proof of the story's falsity. And you demand more credibility on Zirin's part to be skeptical of a story's facts...

More Ridiculous The More You Think You Think About It

"A group of sixth graders tied me to a tree, spray-painted the word ------ on me, and threw rocks at me...."

The school principle is also saying that she had never heard of this incident. If something like this happened then there is no way you would have other people to corroborate the story. If he had rocks thrown at him, then it would have least required a trip to the school nurse, most likely the hospital if this incident really happened.

Restoring order to the universe

Is Tiger's name really Tiger? Was that really him on the Mike Douglas show at 2 years old? Did he really win all those golf tournaments? Did he cheat? Did he take PEDs? Did he take recreational drugs? Is Tiger Woods just a media creation? Is the media just 'desirous' of a black man dominating golf so they just made him up? If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? Did Tiger make it fall?

Let's take this opportunity to doubt everything that's ever been said, written, or thought about Tiger Woods because we really didn't want to believe it in the first place. The whole Tiger Woods story is one big lie. We knew he couldn't have been that perfect. Real American heroes look like Elvis, not like Tiger.

p.s
Why does Tiger have to validate a story that was told 13 years ago? A story nobody gave a damn about when it was told. Remember the "are you ready for me world" marketing campaign. Tiger was assailed in the media for talking about race so he dropped it. Now the haters give a damn and want him to talk about it while he carries less credibility and power than he did before. Please. Let's just move on.

Where was dad

Spray Painted the n word on him and threw rocks at him. And his dad (a decorated war hero) did nothing? I was never in the service nor am I black, but there would be hell to pay if someone had done this to my child. Just saying

Hope he dominates the Masters

For her not to remember makes perfect sense if true, since, according to Tiger and his Father it was dismissed at the time. So if it was dismissed how could she possibly recall the incident? It meant nothing to her at the time.....she didn't care and probably never thought about it again.


-& Jack in Kindergarten I was in a school with Kids from K-6, with all access. America is a big country buddy...and not a monolith.

CB I agree completely.

Teachers don't see everything...

...and sometimes they see it and don't report it. I saw several instances in high school where gangs of football players would jump guys 5-on-1 and beat the shit out of them. Sometimes a teacher would be within earshot, sometimes they'd jump the kids far away from anyone else. Sometimes the victims would report them, nothing ever came of it.
I'd believe Decker's story a little more if she hadn't shown up with Gloria Allred in tow.
I've never had much use for a Nike Clotheswhore like Woods, but I'll take his word for it in this case.

The Truth about a Lie

If Decker's claims that Tiger's claims of hatred were a lie--- is a lie, then we have seen two ugly aspects in schools everywhere: the hatred some students (more than one would think) have for fellow students of colour, and the blatant ignorance of faculty and authority figures in these hateful situations. On the other end of the spectrum is the fact that, as former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich said, "A lie travels halfway around the world before the truth puts its shoes on."

I guess...

...the rub in all of this is the insertion of Gloria Allred. When it gets to that level of celebrity tabloid news, I just go the other way...not my thing!

It's Still Ridiculous

Whether or not camera chasing attorney Allred has been inserted into this story, it doesn't change the fact that Tiger's story is totally ridiculous and suggests a grudge against his former teacher.

I'm not so sure about the story's validity

Tiger grew up in the 1980's in suburban southern california - i have a hard time believing that in that specific setting he was singled out by children 6 years older for this type of racial torment, and that absolutely no one else knew about it.

but in any case, tiger doesn't have a responsibility to talk about the incident if he doesn't want to. if this is true, then i assume it would be a very searing and scaring memory, and its not ridiculous to think that this memory would be too painful for tiger to discuss. where did we get this idea that just because tiger is really rich and famous he has some moral obligation to oblige all of our demands and lets us know all the information that we would ever want to know about him?

by the way everyone when you're done here make sure to check out www.arjun-allthingssports.blogspot.com for candid and insightful analysis. i just posted my nfl draft breakdown, so please check it out and rip my rankings to pieces!!!

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com