Roberto Clemente, Nat "King" Cole, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods...These are the names of men I openly admire, and in the case of Roberto Clemente, idolize. Images of Clemente dot the walls of My house and workspace, and the first ballplayer, the first athlete My son could recognize anywhere was The Great One.
My music collection features half a dozen Nat "King" Cole CDs, songs he sung in English and a charmingly rounded Spanish. On My MP3 player I have 75 of his songs and I'll make room for more.
Michael Jordan is My contemporary, a player I watched while We were both in college and followed through his meteoric rise to become a global icon. The season he and his Bulls won 72 games--a record--I watched 81 of those games, including a stunning Christmas Day loss to the then-woeful Dallas Mavericks, a game My good friend Don Muchow had the pleasure of experiencing in person.
Then from the outskirts of sports--amateur golf--came the phenomenon of Tiger Woods. I watched his first Masters win, a jaw-dropping 12-stroke lead over the outmatched pack. I've watched him win over three dozen tournaments, including all of his 12 major wins, cheering him on. Just today My son and I discussed Tiger's improbable "edge of the cup" putt that fell in to help win his fourth Masters, a moment so improbably exciting that I practically leapt to My feet while Kaleb was on My lap. Scared him, but he remembers that day and follows Tiger almost as avidly as I do. (And yet, We don't really like golf.)
You might have noticed that these four men, who form a tetralogy in My life, are black. One Puerto Rican, two American and one a racial hybrid spanning two continents. And for those who've never seen Me, I'm not black.
I don't see these men as "men," devoid of racial characteristics: I see them as black men, the same way I see other people and notice their skin color, too. My admiration for them has no relationship to their skin color, but rather as the product of their talent, determination, excellence and character.
Except in Tiger's case, where I cheer with an added trace of gleeful satisfaction, knowing that in the lily-white world of golf, Tiger's success is most certainly a thumb in the eye of idiots who think skin color makes the man or woman.
I admire other men, and plenty of women. A partial list would include Willie Mays, Cal Ripken, Jr., Larry Bird, Jack Nicklaus, Patsy Cline, Meryl Streep, Indira Gandhi and J.K. Rowling. They each appeal to aspects of My personality and interests. But what My son sees, from My actions and words, is admiration of men who don't look like Me. The message he is getting, the message I send since childhood, is that skin color means very little and that what a man or woman does and stands for is the most valuable criteria possible.
Someday, maybe when Tiger's close to 90 PGA victories and his 24th major, I'll tell My son that part of My cheering Tiger on is about enjoying someone else's needless discomfort. It's not how I should feel about Tiger's excellence, but I do and there's no sense in hiding it. By then, I hope My son has seen the stupidity of racism and--maybe--My own stupidity for sneering at it in others.
But for now, amidst an Island of My own people who, to a larger extent than We care to admit, carry racism in their back pockets, I want My son to know that he can admire everyone who lives up to his standards, regardless of skin color. I may not be a great father, but I truly believe that despite that, I can still teach him a Great Truth.
The Jenius Has Spoken.