Tiger Woods Wins The 1997 Masters

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On April 13, 1997, 21-year-old Tiger Woods became the first person of African and Asian decent to win the golf Masters at Augusta National in Georgia. The win was a pivotal moment in history for African Americans. The race finally received well-deserved recognition in the sport. For years, African American golfers were overshadowed by other white competitors. Under the racist policy of America’s lynching, financial oppression, and other acts of hatred, Black men carried their golf game on. Some like Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder went on to stellar careers and became well known. But many others such as Teddy Rhodes, James Black, Bill Spiller, Nathaniel Starks, and Joe Roach never got that opportunity.

Not only did Tiger Woods win the Masters, but he also broke a record by scoring the lowest in the tournament’s history. Woods’s 72-hole score, an amazing 18-under-par 270, was the lowest in the tournament history and shattered a record of 271 shared by Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd. After the win, African Americans were extremely proud of the athlete and his success in the sport; however, the celebration by fellow professional golfers was short lived. Long time PGA tour golfer Fuzzy Zoeller was asked on his feelings about Woods having such a record breaking tournament. Zoeller acknowledged Woods’ stellar tournament, calling his play “pretty impressive,” but quickly retorted, “The little boy is driving it well is doing everything it takes to win…tell him to enjoy it, and to not serve fried chicken next year…or collard greens, or whatever they serve.” Zoeller was referring to the Masters dinner, held each year on the Wednesday before the tournament. The year’s previous winner gets to decide the menu. Playing on tired and hateful stereotypes to make a cheap joke landed Zoeller in hot water. Woods ultimately forgave Zoeller, but it was obvious that golf (and the Masters Tournament) had deep issues with race. Even until the 1980’s one of Augusta National’s founders insisted that the caddies were only to be African American. It took an African American winner to for that ugly past and its enduring legacy to be confronted. It’s still being confronted, too. Sergio Garcia made a similar “fried chicken” comment regarding Tiger in 2012 (Nixon).

On April 24, 1997, a post-Masters interview between Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey aired and caused many African Americans to see their golf champion in a different light. During the interview, Winfrey asked Woods, “What do you call yourself?” Tiger answered: “Growing up, I came up with this name: I’m a Cablinasian.” Tiger Woods continued by explaining his multi-racial background saying how he is a mix of half Asian (Chinese and Thai), one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American and one-eighth Dutch.

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Woods with his mother and father

As stated previously, Tiger Woods’s claim of “Cablinasian” descent outraged many African Americans. Some even referred to him as a “sell-out.” Many would agree that the one-drop rule should be applied to Tiger’s situation, however, some have argued that Tiger Woods should not have to deny more than half his racial ethnicity to please black America. Woods was certainly aware of his ethnicity in 1997 and continued to be throughout his career and even today. He isn’t disowning Blackness by combining it with Asian and Caucasian. (Though it’s certainly worth an examination of the order of ethnicity in “Cablinasian”). An NAACP board member at the time, Julian Bond, countered the backlash of the Oprah Winfrey interview with saying, “As proud as I am of Tiger Woods, I realize I have to share him. He is part of a new reality. If people don’t feel comfortable with that, they are going to have to get comfortable with it”(Fletcher).

In light of the scandal that culminated in his divorce from his wife and a stint at a rehabilitation center, it’s worth reexamining Woods’ impact on golf. He hasn’t won a major since 2008, yet is considered one of the most popular golfers on the tour. His comments regarding race were met with angst from some white and black people, but has Woods’ enduring popularity and skill allowed him to transcend race? He certainly has the earnings to do so, earning hundreds of millions of dollars since his 1997 Masters win.  He never has attempted to “cancel his blackness”; Woods could have let Sergio Garcia’s fried chicken comment slide, but instead, he addressed it by saying, “The comment that was made wasn’t silly,” and categorized it as “wrong, hurtful, and inappropriate” (Nixon). Woods never tried to  downplay his blackness by fully addressing hate speech. If anything, Woods is trying to be more inclusive by representing the multiple ethnicity’s he identifies with. Perhaps that is why Woods continues to appeal to a diverse crowd of people.

Jamari Devine, edited by Jeff Brown

http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/african-americans-and-golf-brief-history

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/tiger-woods-wins-his-first-masters

Fletcher, Michael. “Tiger Woods Says He’s Not Just Black,” The Seattle Times. April 23, 1997. http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19970423&slug=2535313

Nixon, Khari, “TIGER WOODS NEVER SAID HE WASN’T BLACK,” Mass Appeal, May 31, 2017. https://massappeal.com/tiger-woods-never-said-wasnt-black/.

 

Oprah’s Book Club & The Oprah Effect

As of 2015, Oprah Winfrey is the sole black American female present on Forbes’ list of billionaires.1 From meager beginnings in rural Mississippi, and a childhood entrenched with bouncing between family households, facing discrimination as a black girl in the south, and experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of both friends and family members, Oprah would become the biggest name in television talk show history. She is by all accounts the definition of a self-made success.

In 1996, ten years after the start of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey introduced Oprah’s Book Club which selected a feature text to be discussed by both audience members and the author during a new show segment. Winfrey presented the idea for a national reading club to a studio audience stating, “I want to get the whole country reading again. Those of you who haven’t been reading, I think books are important.” As the first text, Oprah selected The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard, a first time author. Judging by USA Today’s Bestseller’s Lists, it was clear that Winfrey’s influence was indeed leading Americans to read. Choosing 48 books between 1996 and 2002 when the show ended, “Each book joined the top 150 best-selling titles in America for at least a few months… Of the 45 adult books, only five were on the top 150 list the week before being featured by Oprah…Just eleven of the 45 books had been part of the top 150 at some time before Oprah featured them on her show. Furthermore, the highest ranking any book had achieved before its book club introduction was just 25.”2 In research extending to 2011, Fordham University found that, “Of the 70 books she singled out, 59 made it to the USA Today bestseller list.”3 Statistically speaking, it is likely that many of the selected authors would not have achieved the levels of success they reached without Winfrey’s endorsement.

Quoting David Kipen, former director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts, USA Today writes that, “At the club’s peak, ‘Oprah gave America an excuse to talk about books every couple of months…She served a useful purpose in the same way that the myth of summer reading does: reminding the forgetful that reading exists, which greatly expands the number of people us bookish types can talk to.’”4 Winfrey’s ability to influence the masses while simultaneously bringing them together is the same strength that allowed her book club to flourish. Whether they were avid readers beforehand, or they simply chose to read books as Oprah supporters, Americans were reading.

The impact of The Oprah Winfrey Show is unquestionable and is evinced by her 25 year run as a daytime talk show host—the most successful of the 90s. In 1996, the same year she founded her book club, Oprah received both the Peabody Award and the Daytime Emmy for both Outstanding Talk Show Host, and Outstanding Talk Show. As another display of her dominance over the 1990s talk show world, Winfrey received both of the aforementioned Daytime Emmy’s six times in the decade. What makes Oprah’s prominence most fascinating is her station as a black woman with a television program that was viewed by a predominantly white, female, middle-aged audience.5 Of all people, a woman who emerged from a poor, rural upbringing in highly racialized Mississippi was able to connect with and influence an antithetical viewership despite not being the typically idealized version of womanhood. She was unabashedly single, without children, outspoken, and adept at navigating interview topics ranging from the delicate to the entertaining. This influence reached far beyond the small screen as Oprah used the talk show platform as a catalyst political change. After publicly sharing her personal story of abuse, Winfrey advocated at a Senate hearing for the National Child Protection Act. In 1993, Bill Clinton signed into law what would be known as the “Oprah Bill.”6

In ranking Oprah’s ten most memorable moments, NBC’s Today contributor Randee Dawn opens the article stating, “Oprah Winfrey is a kind of teacher. Since 1986, via her classroom called ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ she’s taught us it’s OK to cry, OK to share our problems, OK to give away cars to an entire audience and OK to love books. In return, she has earned the uniquely American honor of being known by her first name only.”7 Most fascinating about Dawn’s comment is the notion of the talk show host being known by only her first name. There simply is no other Oprah, but first names are intimate; they signify a closeness to an individual, a familiarity with that person. Oprah managed to create a personal relationship with television viewers in the comfort of their own homes. Whatever drew and continues to draw us to her, Winfrey’s impact on American entertainment is incontestable and likely here to stay. —Mara Johnson

  1. Nsehe, Mfonobong. “The Black Billionaires 2015.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 2 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
  2. Butler, Richard J., Benjamin W. Cowan, and Sebastian Nilsson. “From Obscurity to Bestseller: Examining the Impact of Oprah’s Book Club Selections.” Publishing Research Quarterly 20.4 (2005): 23-34. Communication & Mass Media Complete. PDF File.
  3. Jacobson, Murrey. “The Oprah Effect, by the Numbers.” PBS. PBS, 25 May 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.
  4. Minzesheimer, Bob. “How the ‘Oprah Effect’ changed publishing.” USA Today. USA Today, 22 May. 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.
  5. Anburajan, Aswini. “Breaking Down Oprah’s Numbers.” NBC News. NBC News, 7 Dec. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
  6. Fetini, Alyssa. “Top 10 Oprah Moments.” Time. Time, 25 May 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.
  7. Dawn, Randee. “Oprah’s 10 Most Memorable Moments.” Today. NBC News, (2011). Web. 21 Nov. 2015.