Jackie, Tiger, and Ellen—not as catchy as Martin, Bartin, and Fish, or Abraham, Martin, and John, but good enough to mesmerize the press this spring. In one respect, the mainstream media were right: Jackie Robinson was a courageous man; Tiger Woods is an extraordinary golfer; and Ellen DeGenerate—well, two out of three ain’t bad.

But here’s the “rest of the story.” The national love-fest that celebrated Woods’ victory at the Masters and the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in professional baseball was principally a white thing, and a neoconservative white media thing at that. In fact, hard-core liberals, regardless of race, showed little interest in the hoopla. Carl Rowan dismissed the celebrations as much ado about nothing, saying “healing the racial divide” will “require more of all of us than just a weekend celebration of one marvelous kid’s exploits on a golf course in Georgia.” The “postliberal” John Hoberman, in his recently published Darwin’s Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race, said that the “almost millennial significance” accorded Robinson’s achievement has meant “a great deal of sentimentalism and a willed evasion of issues that are more complicated than the ideal of integration.”

An exception on the left was Roger Wilkins’ lead editorial in the April 21 issue of the Nation. Wilkins gushed that not just Jackie Robinson, but even Jackie’s wife had “changed our culture.” It’s “no coincidence,” he said, “that the Supreme Court ordered the schools desegregated seven years after Jackie and Rachel went to the Dodgers.” And we’ve been blaming Earl Warren all these years.

Conspicuously absent from these love-fests were professional athletes, especially black sports stars. When a reporter asked star first baseman Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox what Jackie Robinson meant to him, Thomas replied, in effect, “Jackie who?” (Thomas blamed his ignorance on the failure of the public schools to teach enough black history.) When President Clinton invited Tiger Woods to join him at Shea Stadium for the anniversary party in honor of Robinson, Tiger declined: he had a restaurant to open in Myrtle Beach. And far from carrying on about Woods’ status as the first “Cablinasian” (Tiger’s word for Caucasian-black-Indian-Asian; he hates being called “black”) to win the Masters, veteran golfer Fuzzy Zoeller wondered whether the victory by “that little boy” meant that collard greens and fried chicken would be served at the tournament next year, a “racially charged comment” that cost Zoeller his multimillion dollar endorsement contract with Kmart. (Zoeller, by the way, should have been fired, not for insensitivity, but for assuming that Woods could appreciate Southern cooking.)

As for the neoconservatives’ take on Tiger Woods, their commentary mirrored that of sportswriter Rick Reilly, who said, “[Woods] is not the Pope. He’s more like a god.” Their hagiography was so overblown that it was clearly part of their campaign to co-opt as many minority heroes as possible. The problem, however, is that the facts about the lives of their newly anointed conservatives (whether Martin Luther King, Colin Powell, or Tiger Woods) keep getting in their way. For example, Charles Krauthammer’s description of Woods in his nationally syndicated column on April 21 had little resemblance to the Tiger Woods interviewed in the April issue of Gentlemen’s Quarterly:

Krauthammer: “[Woods] combines great athleticism with . . . poise and manners and simple soft-spoken politeness,” a rarity in “this age of the . . . trash-talking, in-your-face sports star.”

Woods: “If I say I’m there [for a photoshoot] for an hour, I’m there, on time, for an hour. If they ask for more, I say, ‘Hell, f–k no.’ And I’m out of there.”

Krauthammer: “Woods is more than just good . . . he has not just the old-fashioned virtues of respect . . . he is a paragon and a rarity: a gentleman athlete.”

Woods: “I get f–king p–sed when I’ve got a [computer] station and no games to play on it.”

Woods, the “gentleman athlete,” the Lord Chesterfield of the links, then tells a room full of female staffers at GQ a series of X-rated jokes too raunchy to requote.

The Washington Times quickly justified the embarrassing GQ interview with a “So’s your old man” rejoinder: “If disappointing columnists and making tasteless remarks were crimes, most of Washington would be wearing orange jump suits.” Other conservatives also rallied to Tiger’s defense. Thomas Sowell defended Woods’ no-show at the Robinson celebration by arguing that the young man didn’t want to be racially pigeonholed. Yet, if this is true, why was Woods’ first television commercial a prime-time whine about the courses he couldn’t play because of the color of his skin?

But the most telling commentary about Woods came from golf writer Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune, who said Tiger is “the pied piper of golf, luring kids of all backgrounds, especially inner-city kids, into a game where opportunity . . . has been limited.” If I remember correctly, the Pied Piper lured the children of Hamelin down a black hole in a mountain, where they were never seen again. Considering the success of such “hoop dreams” in the black community, Mr. Sherman’s analogy is all too apt.