OK, what in the name of Ho Chi Minh is Bill Simmons talking about here? Muhammad Ali and 'Nam? Tiger keeping his pecker out of the killing fields of Spearmint Rhino? What?
This is from yesterday's chat. Scroll down to question from "Eddie (Forth Worth)." Fort Worth Eddie wants to know if Tiger Woods is "ever going to be the same golfer." Glad you asked, Eddie:
To me, that's a much bigger question than "Where is LeBron going?" Tiger's comeback is going to be the most fascinating running sports story of my lifetime. I really believe that. We only get a handful of truly transcendent athletes per lifetime, he's one of them, and yet, none of them have ever been tested this way.
The only thing that comes close: When Ali returned from 4 years of boxing exile for refusing to serve in Vietnam.
For this, Simmons is rightly taken to task by an anonymous interrogator:
Really Bill? Ali coming back to win the title after being banned from the sport for religious convictions that prevented him from serving in a war that continues to effect the course of American history today, "comes close" to Tiger missing 5 months for a cavalcade of bimbos and a staged sex rehab?
Here's the big difference though: Everyone was rooting for Ali. He never came even 10% close to facing the scrutiny, vitriol and 24/7 news cycle microscope that Tiger will face.
Yes, I'm certain that in the early 1970s, a black man who refused to be called by his "slave name" was far better received by white America than Tiger is received in America today. Certain.
You don't know your Ali history. it's true that White America was against him in the mid-60's, but that shifted as America turned against Vietnam. By the time of the Ali-Frazier fight, Frazier was the "old guard" rep and Ali was the "new guard" rep. He had everyone under 35 rooting for him.
Even if this weren't coloring-book history — and it is (among other things, the year Ali refused induction, 1967, was more or less the year America began to turn against Vietnam) — it'd be a silly sentiment merely on the grounds of the preposterous comparison. Look, I know we all like to think we're living Important History as it is being written, and I know that this is the Sports Guy's world, where watching Battle of the Network Stars on YouTube counts as a sense of the past. But a few years from now, people will look back on Tiger's sex life as an amusing footnote to a very successful golf career; maybe, with any luck, they'll think of it as the moment everyone stopped paying attention to sportswriters who feigned shock at an athlete's wayward humping. But that's it. Tiger's wayward humping is not Important History. It takes a singular set of blinkers for someone not to see any analogical daylight between Ali's comeback and Tiger's, which involves little more than coming back from the champagne room. And it takes a staggering lack of sense for someone to write that Ali "never came even 10% close to facing the scrutiny" that Tiger will — as if it were Ali's good fortune to be scrutinized only by the boys running COINTELPRO and never by Skip Bayless.
Chat with Bill Simmons [ESPN]