Sunday, February 21, 2010

Year of the Tiger

(Video -- or at least the audio part -- probably not work-safe. This man must be a prophet.)

The best part of the Dalai Lama's comments on Tiger Woods's promise to return to the values of his Buddhist upbringing was that the DL had no idea who Woods is. (Several news reports refer to Woods's "Buddhist faith," but that seems not be his word for it.)

Aw, hell... I wasn't going to say more on this subject, but I glanced again at this essay, posted months before the scandal broke, and it got my goat just a little bit. I don't know much more about Woods than the Dalai Lama does, but I had heard of his Mr. Clean image, so Reilly's article took me by surprise. Expletives on the golf course, eh? Temper tantrums and "slamming his club, throwing his club and cursing his club." Think of the children! ... This exaltation of sport into a near-religion makes me tired.

Reilly tells this little story:

I remember Tiger's dad, Earl, telling a story. One day, when Tiger was just a kid, he was throwing his clubs around in a fuming fit when his dad said something like "Tiger, golf is supposed to be fun." And Tiger said, "Daddy, I want to win. That's how I have fun."

Well, it's not fun to watch.

Isn't golf notoriously one of the more boring games on the planet? I don't think it's fun to watch at best. And Reilly carefully misses the point of his own anecdote (though I'd like to know the context in which Woods Sr. told it): Woods has evidently felt the compulsion to win since childhood. But competition produces far more losers than winners, and nobody thinks losing is fun.

As a Buddhist, Woods needs to learn to rein in his temper no less than his libido, but it could at least be argued that his craving to Win is a major part of the problem, and so is the competitiveness inherent in most sport. Sure, it's possible in principle to be a Zen golfer, totally unconcerned about winning or losing, just becoming one with the club and the ball, but the whole structure of sport at the level at which people like Woods play militates against it. Not only winning but large amounts of secondary money are involved. The stakes are enormous, and so is the stress. Maybe the Dalai Lama could play the Masters Tournament in a state of non-craving, but not many ordinary mortals can.

But this is what got my goat:
Golf is a gentlemen's game. Stomping and swearing and carrying on like a Beverly Hills tennis brat might fly in the NBA or in baseball or in football, where less is expected, but golf demands manners. It's your honor. Is my mark in your way? No, I had 6, not 5. Golfers call penalties on themselves. We are our own police. Tiger, police yourself.
Reilly may be right about the self-policing and "honor" in golf, I wouldn't know. But "a gentleman's game"? Ah yes, gentlemen. African-Americans have been involved in the sport for over a century, but they had to contend with the same racism that blocked them everywhere else. It's not dead yet, apparently. Even Tiger Woods faced it as a kid. Is my mark in your way? Get that black kid out of here. No, I had 6, not 5. There are all sorts of reasons why Woods needs to learn to control his temper, like his blood pressure, but being a "gentleman" is low on the list.