Tiger Woods still won’t endorse Barack Obama (and it’s election day)

The Independent features some blurbs from prominent black artists and athletes about a possible Obama presidency. What I found especially striking is the contract between the quotes from Tiger Woods and Alonzo Mourning, which appear back-to-back in the article. Woods seems bent on not saying anything provocative and offers the vaguest, most uncontroversial praise of Obama. It’s a step away from Michael Jordan’s famous proclamation, “Republicans buy sneakers too,” which he has since reversed. Despite calls to do so, Woods did not endorse a candidate in the election. Mourning follows up with a critique of that very mentality that prevents athletes from holding public political views. Compare below: 

Tiger Woods, Golfer

I’ve seen him speak. He’s extremely articulate, very thoughtful, I’m just impressed at how well, basically all politicians really do, how well they think on their feet. Especially those debates. It’s pretty phenomenal to see them get their point across. But I just think that he’s really inspired a bunch of people in our country and we’ll see what happens down the road.

Alonzo Mourning, basketball player

I need to be part of this because this is part of the history of our nation and I do have a voice in the community – I have a presence and it’s beautiful to be able to use it on behalf of something I believe in. Some athletes worry something like this might affect their sponsorship deals, but I’m not afraid. Obama has given real leadership. I’m not ashamed to say I’m with him all the way.

Update: A good article over at MSNBC.com details some of the issues involved in getting athletes to be more politically engaged. A brief excerpt following by clicking on the “more” link below. What seems to me a serious issue is the political environment in which athletes live. Owners, leagues, agents, and marketers create strong disincentives to political engagement, and that to me seems clearly undemocratic. 

Mourning’s Miami Heat teammate, Shawn Marion, has met McCain many times, when the latter attended games of Marion’s former team, the Phoenix Suns, and called him “a real cool guy.” But he was moved by Obama’s speech on race in March in Philadelphia in response to the Jeremiah Wright controversy, and “the way he addressed every point head-on and told you the reason why this person thinks that way. If you sit there and really listened to that speech, you have to believe in that man.” They have since met at a Miami Beach fundraiser, and made plans to play two-on-two.

“It’s a free country, you can do what the hell you want to do,” Marion said. “It’s everybody’s choice to make. I’m not saying I’m out here, rioting, yelling ‘Go Obama’ or any of that stuff. But at the same time, if somebody asks me, we debate about stuff.”

The debate, in some locker rooms, is a start.

“I don’t know if this is a trend, this might just be a one-time deal,” [Occidental politics professor Peter] Dreier said. “But once people get involved in politics, they tend to stay in politics.”

Dreier has some thoughts on why athletes have tended to stay out. Naturally, economics have played a role. (Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas recently told the Washington Post that he wasn’t planning to vote, due to his concern that both presidential candidates would take more of his taxes.) But Dreier also points to sports unions, which are not part of the traditional labor movement of endorsing candidates and encouraging members to support politicians. Athletes are on their own, and the current climate doesn’t support their activism.

“That’s the incredible hypocrisy of the owners,” Dreier said. “They are completely intertwined with the political world. They bring politicians to the games, put them in the owners’ box. Professional sport team owners are among the most politically involved businesspeople in the country. They want to maintain the Congressional exemption from antitrust law, and they also want subsidies for stadiums and for parking. And then they discourage their players from exercising their free speech rights and their rights as citizens.”

After the start of the Iraq War, Dreier interviewed NBA players who told them that their coaches had advised them not voice their views.

“It’s peer pressure to shut up because (management) doesn’t want the fans to get their loyalties screwed up because of political differences between players and fans, and between players and other players,” said Dreier, who suspects that owners would be more tolerant of athletes expressing conservative opinions.

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