By: Harrison Giza
“The Passion of Tiger Woods” is an excellent read for any sports aficionado, anthropological reader or person with good taste. Through Tiger Woods, Orin Stran examines golf, a sports superstar, racial issues and media scandal with direct dialog and openness.
Each word in “Passion” builds around Starn’s love of golf. Over seven chapters, he doesn’t silence his personal opinions. He loves golf. He really, really loves golf. Yet, Starn doesn’t shout his opinions through the book. His narrative voice is a conversational one. Rhetorical questions, clever quips and great diction are on every page. At the right time, pictures are even used. For example, Starn places a photo of Tiger as a young cub golfing right at the start of the book. This not only shows the start of a superstar but also that Tiger, despite his name, is a human being.
This is why the title of the book can be a bit misleading. With a name like “The Passion of Tiger Woods,” it would seem that the book likens Tiger to Jesus. Not once does Orin Starn compare the two figures or speak about any Christ-like doings. Starn paints Tiger as he should be painted: as a man. The book’s second title, “An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race and Celebrity Scandal” suits the paperback perfectly. He should have gone with the second title. Despite this, it is a poor title choice. “The Passion of Tiger Woods” sounds like something you would see on the cover of tabloid papers rather than on a college professor’s work.
Much like it’s title, the book is written in periodical form (like a magazine). However, one of the main appeals of “Passion” is Starn’s loose, easy to follow prose. His writing stays journalistic throughout the piece and really makes the work page turning. He asks questions, answers and expands on them. At times it’s almost as if Starn is talking right in front of the reader, akin to talking over a cup of coffee with an educated friend. One might feel that they are digging their eyes through a copy of Rolling Stone instead a professor preaching. Ironically, Starn’s sharp journalism counters how the dull, poor quality pieces the media tossed out like rapid fire during the “Tiger Scandal.”
A chunk of the book focuses on the media and Starn’s reaction to their handling of the infamous scandal. He states “Tiger Woods was the perfect hero for a post-racial, post-civil-rights America.” Expanding on his statement, Starn talks about Tiger’s rough past, determination to be the greatest and the positive elements he has brought to the table for the future of African Americans. Here was a guy that paved the way for good example: a multi-racial, talented and extraordinary man who worked his way to the top.
One the best chapters of the book, “Tiger’s Penis,” is where Starn climaxes interest. Here, the book questions why major television stations like Fox, Msnbc and CNN focused on trivial, stereotypical myths. Primarily he speaks about how the “sexual prowess of a black man” was the main thing grabbing the attention of the media. Orin Starn means that if Tiger Woods were a white male, a “passion” would have never burned. Television camera crews wouldn’t have piled outside Wood’s house if his race were different. They wouldn’t have taped his every action during the scandal if his marriage weren’t interracial.
The chapter also highlights a key factor as to why “The Passion of Tiger Woods” is a great read: it is funny. Very rarely in literature does one open to a page where the chapter title involves the male genitals. One of the nicest things about this book is that its words and pictures help provoke thought as well as laughter. Starn even tips the cap to the humorists and writers that gave him his style and creativity (an example being George Carlin’s golf joke at the start of the book).
However, it isn’t all jokes. The book shows that Starn really had a passion for the subject when it talks about the history of the game. Despite his love, Starn says golf is a prejudice game. Golf is predominately played by white males and was once for “whites only.” Starn in his own opinion says that many different golf leagues only decided to stop upholding this rule because of social pressure. He means that white people would have kept it that way if they could have.
Starn claims that Tiger Woods did not break the color barrier in golf. In fact, the book has a whole section devoted to the history of black golf players. This great surprise is just one example of Starn’s terrific teaching skills in the book.
Although Starn uses Tiger as a gateway to express his opinions and ideas as an anthropologist, Mr. Woods is the main individual expressed in the book. Starn brings up times in Woods’ life where he dealt with the problem of race. After all, tiger is a superstar athlete in a sport where white males are just about the complete majority. However, Starn claims that the odds and challenges against him only strengthened his drive and overall love for the game.
He talks about Woods and his racial strife against the media heavily. Starn goes back into the superstar’s past and uncovers some great material from sports interviews. When a journalist asked Tiger what he truly considered his race to be, Woods cleverly labeled himself a “cablinasian.” The reason he gave himself such a witty title is because of such a variety in his heritage. Starn tells the reader about his parents too, talking about his African-American dad and Thai mom. Woods even believes that through his mother’s side, he is even more of a mixed bag of unidentifiable ethnic backgrounds.
Yet, Starn delves deeper, stating that Tiger didn’t want any race, color or creed to get in the way of who he wanted to be. As years went by, Tiger rejected his racial identification as well as many, many interviews. Starn comments that the golf great needed his privacy because of the constant media hounding he received after playing eighteen holes. Starn states that through this confidential seclusion, Woods grew to be more in control of his game as well as get more control of his own life. Growing up, his father raised him in a very particular way, keeping him away from other school children and making Tiger focus on the fundamental basics of putting and chipping instead of having the social freedoms of education interaction.
However, Orin says that his father’s harsh raising lead Tiger to the path of intimidation. Players feared him even before he started professionally. This fear showed nowhere on Tiger’s face later in his career. Before the incident, Starn saw the golf pro as happy and a “man on top of life.” He drops facts on the audience, telling the reader about how in 2009, Woods was named “the most famous and richest athlete in the world” by Forbes magazine, raking in over a billion dollars. He also had a sexy lady by his side. Once a Swedish bikini model, Tiger married Elin Nordegren and had two children shortly afterwards. Starn says it states that Woods’ life was too good to be true, a perfect picture to match his masterful golf career exactly. Then Starn discusses all the bad stuff: getting caught with multiple women, his wife breaking his cars window, losing hundreds of sports endorsements and the media claiming that he had been injecting himself with strength enhancing performance drugs. Oh, and don’t forget media stereotypes of black people. The sections discussing these issues in Starn’s work really grab the reader’s focus because of Starn’s careful inspection of the media’s portrayal of Tiger Woods post-incident. It is simply too good describe.
In final summation, Starn shoots and scores a great read. With its strong voice, interesting subject matter and humor “The Passion of Tiger Woods” is for anyone interested in sports, how the media conjures race episodes and one of our greatest athletes, but its even better for those who simply want to learn.