Comparing Woods and Ali?

As I write this, the front page on has a photo of Tiger Woods and a photo of Muhammad Ali and a headline that reads, “Who Faced A Bigger Fight?” Seriously.

The subhead reads: “The comeback Tiger Woods presumably will attempt is unlike any we’ve seen. Muhammad Ali’s return from exile in 1970 was of greater importance, but Tiger’s career is in bigger jeopardy.” I’m not kidding.

It links to a long and thoughtful Bill Simmons column. Simmons argues that Tiger’s comeback — whenever that might be — will be more difficult than Ali’s largely because of the exponential increase in media scrutiny over the past four decades.

That might be true. And Simmons’ piece is worth reading.

But the headline writer is going out on a limb with “who faced a bigger fight?” I’m thinking that a forced 43-month hiatus that involved questions of religious freedom, race, the anti-war movement, the power of the federal government, and “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong” . . . was a slightly bigger fight than a self-imposed break that lasts months and was caused by one’s own philandering.

Woods’ return, whenever it might be, will provide a fascinating psychological study of a most private individual. And the most fundamental difference between his comeback and Ali’s is that Woods suffered a public humiliation. Ali’s exile was rife with controversy, but it wasn’t necessarily a humiliation. It was the kind of thing that could engender hatred, but not snickers like the ones Woods will face.

Which is more desirable: To have people hate you for your beliefs, or ridicule you and make you a punchline? I think I would opt for being hated rather than laughed at. In that regard, Woods’ return will be difficult. But his fight cannot be compared with Ali’s.

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