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Woods unfairly at center of Augusta debate?

10/20/2002

NEW YORK -- Tiger Woods doesn't understand why his opinion
in the debate on whether women should be members at Augusta
National Golf Club has become so important.

"I didn't see it coming to this degree," he said in an
interview published Sunday in The New York Times. "Yes, I've
always wanted to impact lives in a positive way. But I like to pick
my own causes, and not be forced into having to do something."

Woods said it was not true that he avoids political controversy
for fear it might hurt his corporate interests and endorsements.

"There's no validity to that at all," he said. "I'll say what
I believe, but I'll choose when," Woods told the paper on Friday
from Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where he is playing in the Walt Disney
World Resort Golf Classic.

Woods was first asked about the issue of women membership at
Augusta during the British Open in July.

At that time he said, "It would be nice to see everyone have an
equal chance to participate, but there is nothing you can do about
it."

When Woods, the world's top golfer, was asked again last week,
he gave a more detailed answer.

"Do I want to see a female member?" he said. "Yes. But it's
our right to have any club set up the way we want to."

Woods called upon the two key players in the dispute -- Hootie
Johnson, the chairman of Augusta National, and Martha Burk, the
chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations -- to
work out a compromise.

"If they both sat down and talked about it, it would be
resolved a lot better than what is going on right now," Woods said
Wednesday.

There is dispute as to whether Woods' latest comments were
positive or negative.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a founder of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, credited Woods for "trying to do the right
thing," but criticized what Woods said.

"He said they're both right, didn't he?" Lowery told the
newspaper. "He sounds like a politician. It's a good thing he
doesn't play golf that way. That's so nonaggressive, so
milquetoast, so lukewarm.

"He would never have hit that shot out over the water onto the
green with that kind of attitude. I guess it's his way of being
politically correct and safe. But you can't be all things to all
people. Sometimes you have to take a principled stand. I understand
that as the point man for the game of golf, and who's done more for
the sport than anyone else, he doesn't want to get embroiled in
controversy. But some things you can't avoid getting embroiled
in."

Tommie Smith, the champion sprinter who protested the treatment
of black Americans by raising a gloved fist at the 1968 Olympics in
Mexico City, disagreed with Lowery's assessment.

"Very diplomatic," Smith said of Woods. "I think he's coming
out in his social development."

Woods is trying to avoid situations in which he can't seem to
come out on the right side.

"I have the feeling that sometimes I can't say anything,
because I'm going to get criticized," Woods told the paper. "And
what's unfair about that is, people always ask my opinion. They ask
for my opinion, and then sometimes when I give it to them, they
don't respect what I have to say. If that's the case, then don't
ask."

Billie Jean King, who helped revolutionize women's tennis, had
no problem with Woods' comments.

"I thought they were right on," King said. "He said they
should get together, person to person, and have a dialogue."

David Duval thinks Woods has been painted into a corner.

"There's a firestorm around him," Duval said. "We've talked
about it. Regardless of the position he takes, he's wrong. He's not
ever going to be right, unless he agrees with the party that is
really upset. He's entirely in a no-win situation that way.

"I think most of it's because he's not white. He's looked to
pick up where Jim Brown, Michael Jordan and some of these guys have
left off. That's a tough spot to be in."

Duval told the newspaper that he, and other players on the pro
tour, feel that people should leave Woods alone.

"He's 26 years old," Duval said. "Let him play golf. I
imagine you'll see him take positions here and there, but I don't
think his focus right now should be social change and social
influence. He's just starting his career."

Woods would like to focus on issues that he is more closely
involved with.

"I have my foundation," he said, referring to the Tiger Woods
Foundation, which encourages minority youngsters to learn and play
golf. "We're trying to do a lot of different things. But what I've
found is that a lot of people want me to be the head of their
cause. It's hard.

"I certainly understand what they're trying to accomplish at
Augusta. I also understood the Confederate flag issue a while ago.
But I'm trying to keep my focus on my foundation, and what we're
trying to do. I don't think it should be the responsibility of
celebrities, or sports figures, to have to be the champion of all
causes."

Johnson has said Augusta does not have exclusionary policies,
although it has never had a female member in its 70 years, and it
wasn't until 1990 that the club admitted a black member.

As Burk began to pressure corporate sponsors of the Masters,
Johnson responded in late August by dropping them for next year's
tournament, making the Masters the only commercial-free sports
broadcast on network television.

In recent weeks, the chief executives of American Express,
Citigroup Corp. and the U.S. Olympic Committee -- all members at
Augusta -- have issued statements supporting female members at the
home of the Masters.