On Sunday, April 14th, Tiger Woods won his first Masters Tournament since 2005. The next day, President Trump announced in a tweet that he intended to award Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom due to “his incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and, more importantly, LIFE,” sparking a national upset.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy and is one of the two highest awards that can be bestowed unto a civilian. According to Executive Order 11085, the criterion for Presidential recognition is “for especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
In 2009 things were going well for Woods. He was arguably the most celebrated athlete in the country and in September of that year, Forbes Magazine reported that he had become the world’s first professional athlete to earn over a billion dollars. He accomplished this through his golf course designer company, appearance and endorsement contracts, and tournament winnings. But in the winter of 2009, things changed. Due to an explosive cheating scandal and a DUI arrest, he lost his sponsorships with several corporations including: General Motors, Gatorade and AT&T, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars for Woods. Shortly thereafter, Woods announced he would be “taking an indefinite break from competitive golf” so he could focus on his family. Additionally, Woods has undergone several medical procedures including one wrist, two knee, and four back surgeries, primarily due to ACL, nerve and muscular injuries.
Woods, 43, would be one of the youngest as well as the first active athlete to receive the honor. Of President Trump’s previous nominees, 43 percent have been athletes – a much larger percentage than the traditional five percent from prior presidents. Furthermore, President Trump and Woods are friends and business partners — they’ve golfed together numerous times and Woods is currently designing an 18-hole course for one of Trump’s golf clubs in Dubai.
Many Americans are questioning Trump’s decision to bestow Woods with this honor given his controversial past. But how should we judge Tiger Woods?
There are those who argue that one’s past should not dictate the future so Woods’ incredible comeback should make him more of a candidate. “What he overcame was extraordinary because of how far he fell” an area man, 54 , who wishes to remain anonymous told The Wellesley News. “He was by far the most celebrated global athlete — and in the middle of it he lost it all. He lost his family lost his health and thought he wasn’t going to be able to play golf ever again … And to come back and win the world’s most prestigious golf tournament is a the best personal triumph you could possibly have, and there is a good argument that could be made for celebrating that.”
Moreover, Woods is not the most controversial Presidential Medal of Honor recipient by any means. Many claim that former President Barack Obama’s decision to award former President Bill Clinton in 2013 was far more contentious. They argue his 1998 infidelity scandal was far more problematic because he lied under oath. He has also faced allegations of sexual assault, misconduct, and rape. Why can the public discount and separate the wrongdoings from the professional success of President Clinton but not do the same with Woods?
Carmen Chan ’22, a member of the Wellesley College golf team, highlights how Woods himself has been able to compartmentalize his life and illustrates his incredible influence over the sport.“Tiger Woods has proven time and time again that he can separate his personal life from his professional life. While his personal life can be controversial, he has completely transformed the game of golf and if we are looking objectively at his performance, it is clear to see that he has made a difference,” Chan said. “During Woods’ physical recovery and absence from the PGA tour, ratings were down, excitement was stifling. The moment Woods returned, golf had regained its position in the sports entertainment industry. You can just see the crowd light up when Woods tees off. Even when he misses a shot, the crowd feels for him and they want to see him succeed. While this does not even begin to excuse him in his personal life, his professional life is thriving.”
Conversely, others argue that despite Wood’s contribution to golf, there are others more deserving of the award. Todd Klein of Bethesda, MD, argues, “The negative case is that here are people who have had a much greater impact on America and on American society who broke ground, racially or otherwise, and having an athlete win it, who happens to be the presidents’ friend and business partner, makes you question is [Woods] really the best choice right now?”
For Trump, the answer might be yes. The nomination could have been a ploy by Trump to divert the public’s attention away from the infamous Mueller Report. And having gone through numerous cheating scandals of his own, Trump could have anticipated the uproar the nomination might cause.
But regardless of whether or not Trump’s nomination of Woods was justified, it does support what we know of his perception of American life and success. He chose to highlight individual achievement, not people who influence and further society as a whole — this is why Trump has nominated so many athletes.
Klein continues, “And so, [Woods’ nomination] is just another chance for Donald Trump to have his picture taken with a winner. That’s all he wants.”