By Keith Boykin
I’m not going to get upset about the new Vanity Fair cover depicting a shirtless Tiger Woods pumping iron. I don’t know if it’s fair, mind you, but it was certainly to be expected.
Woods willingly posed for the bad boy image for famed photographer Annie Leibovitz long before the Thanksgiving adultery scandal erupted. It was almost as if he was teasing us all along to come and catch him, letting us know for years that he was never really the saint he was portrayed to be in public.
In his Vanity Fair cover story, writer Buzz Bissinger digs up a 1997 GQ magazine piece that reminds us that Woods clearly saw himself as a black man. “What I can’t figure out is why so many good-looking women hang around baseball and basketball,” Woods said in the GQ interview. “Is it because, you know, people always say that, like, black guys have big dicks?” And during a photo shoot, he told a joke to a group of women, rubbing the tips of his shoes together. “What’s this?” Woods asked, then dropped the punch line: “It’s a black guy taking off his condom.”
It hardly seems like the self-described “Cablinasian” Tiger Woods who convinced white America that he was as much or more of one of them as he was one of “them.” Maybe he felt he was perpetrating a fraud, using both his fame and the stereotype of black male sexual prowess to gain access to white women. Or maybe he thought he was, in the words of the Michael Jackson song, Invincible.
If there’s somebody else, he can’t love you like me
And he says he’ll treat you well, he can’t treat you like me
And he’s buying diamonds and pearls, he can’t do it like me
And he’s talking you all across the world, he can’t trick you like me
In the same album, Jackson goes on to sing these telling lyrics in a song called “Unbreakable”:
You can’t believe it, you can’t conceive it and you can’t touch me, ’cause I’m untouchable and I know you hate it, and you can’t take it You’ll never break me, ’cause I’m unbreakable
Be Like Mike (and O.J.)
We’ve seen the Tiger Woods story before, most notably with O.J. Simpson, but also, of course, with Michael Jackson.
It’s the story of the beloved crossover superstar who falls from grace in mainstream society and quickly morphs into the image of the stereotypically dangerous black male figure.
With O.J., his reputation began to crumble with the famous white Bronco car chase on the San Diego freeway. And with Michael, the allegations of child molestation sent his public image into the gutter for years.
In the years before Simpson pleaded not guilty to murder charges, he was one of America’s best examples of black athletic success. A former Heisman Trophy winner who went on to become a leading rusher in the NFL and encouraged legions of young black boys to aspire to be like number 32.
Simpson was the ideal Hertz pitchman of his day, leaping over suitcases in the airport on his way to rental car endorsement riches. With his handsome, non-threatening all-American good looks and his pitch perfect diction, he charmed Americans into loving him. Finally a powerful black man who didn’t scare them.
Then came the murder charges, and predictably, he was finished — just another black man with a police record and a mug shot.
So too with Michael Jackson, the king of pop, who made his career singing tunes loved around the world. All it took was the allegation of child molestation for his transformation from black to white to revert him back to black again. We could stomach the eccentricity — it was expected of superstars — but not the allegations of criminal activity. Soon, Michael Jackson too was a black man with a police record and an embarrassing mug shot.
Neither Simpson nor Jackson were ever convicted of the principal charges that led to their downfalls, but for many Americans they were convicted long ago in the court of public opinion, even if the nation’s justice system failed to catch up with popular perception.