The Times' Matthew Syed considers the
positioning branding something or other of hot new grand prix driver Lewis Hamilton in the context of Tiger Woods.
Lewis Hamilton will soon become familiar with the rules of this depressing game. Even now the 22-year-old, who was competing to win a second consecutive Formula One grand prix in Indianapolis yesterday, is being schooled in the art of saying nothing. His handlers recognise that by presenting their client as a blank canvas it will be easier to persuade multinationals to emblazon him with their logos. Like Jordan, he will soon become a walking billboard.
Hamilton has been compared with Tiger Woods, but for all the wrong reasons. Many have suggested that his ethnicity — he was the first driver of black heritage to win a grand prix — will inspire a new generation of young black drivers to enter the Formula One paddock in the same way that Woods has transformed the demographics of professional golf. But this is a pipedream — and not just because of the formidable economic barriers to entry in Formula One.
The truth is that Woods has not had anything like the influence on global black consciousness that his cheerleaders suggest. Not one black player has joined the PGA tour since Woods turned professional in 1996 and there has not been a black player in the Ladies Professional Golf Association since 2000. There are today no home players from an ethnic-minority background playing on tour and of the 60 teenagers in the English Golf Union’s elite programme only two come from minorities.
We should not be surprised by any of this. How could Woods become a role model for young people from, say, the ghettos of South Central Los Angeles when his target constituency is across town among those who can afford the mark-up on his red Nike replica shirts?
Woods’s lack of impact on anything other than the marketability of golf has been achieved by virtue of his banality. He has managed to present a public persona of such blandness that few people can remember him taking a stand on anything except the stern of his $20 million yacht. When he was asked to criticise the men-only policies of some private golf clubs he declined, saying that it was a matter for them. His press conferences are a masterclass in insipidness that drain the soul.