Tiger Woods: The Imperfect Politics of American Celebrity

Matthew Andrews – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The life of Eldrick Tont, aka “Tiger” Woods reads like a Shakespearean drama or Greek tragedy. Tiger burst onto the global sporting scene in the 1990s—at the precise moment that Americans were using new terms like “diversity” and “multi-racialness.” More than any other American, the multi-ethnic Tiger Woods was the man of the multi-ethnic moment. And he was a tremendous golfer who was breaking down racial barriers in the sport. As Tiger won tournament after tournament, it became fair to ask the question: “Was there ever anyone who was as good at anything as Tiger Woods was at the game of golf?”

The narrative changed in 2009 when Tiger crashed his car while being attacked by his golf club-wielding wife. Suddenly, Tiger Woods found himself at the center of a different type of media frenzy—one that suggested that a good sex scandal just might be this nation’s most popular spectator sport. In this lecture, Professor Andrews will trace the racial history of golf in the United States, explore Tiger Woods as a sport trailblazer and figure of American diversity, discuss the politics of race and sex in the United States, and consider the recent comebacks and setbacks of this very American celebrity.