- The latest edition of the Weekend Read reveals why one author decided to share their story about Ray Lewis and our favorite stories of the week.
By Joan Niesen
ST. LOUIS—It seems arbitrary at first, to talk now about Sept. 11, 2001 and here: at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, 203 months later and half a country away from lower Manhattan. But we are—well, he is. Tiger Woods, that is. He’s telling his story because that day, he was here.
The morning the Twin Towers came down, Woods was several holes into a practice round before the American Express World Golf Championship. He was coming off a victory at the NEC Invitational, and a year earlier, at the apex of his game, he’d won three of four majors and completed his career Grand Slam. Tiger was in St. Louis, and St. Louis clamored for Tiger.
My brother, John, was 11 at the time, and he loved golf. My family lived—and my parents still live—a mile from Bellerive. On the night of Sept. 10, my dad was set to take John to see his favorite player put on a clinic. But he got stuck at work, and so my mother and John walked up the road. There was still a swath of farmland just to the east of the country club—it’s houses now—and at his clinic, Woods walloped drives out onto the road and into that grass. John remembers it vividly, how the 25-year-old phenom bounce-bounce-bounced balls on his wedge before turning his trick into a perfect chip shot. It was, my brother told me this week, “peak Tiger.”
Woods has said that he got back to the clubhouse the next morning, his practice round interrupted by the confusion of the tragedy, in time to see the second tower fall. At my all-girls Catholic high school miles away from the course, my eighth grade teacher heard something was going on in New York and turned on our classroom television around the same time.
Seventeen years later, I can’t imagine going back to eighth grade, sitting at that desk—which is essentially what Woods is doing this week. He talked about it on Tuesday: how strange it is to be 42 and about to compete in a major on a course he hasn't set foot on since Sept. 12, 2001, when that weekend’s tournament was officially canceled.
As you've probably heard, with flights grounded in the wake of the attack, Woods drove back to Florida on Sept. 13, a 17-hour journey that gave him plenty of time to reflect and reevaluate his philanthropic goals.
"When the tragedies happened on the 11th and I drove home on the 13th and I reflected, if I had been a part of that, what would our foundation be?" Woods said Tuesday. "Well we wouldn't be really anything because we [the Tiger Woods foundation] were—I called it basically a traveling circus. We would raise a bunch of money, be there for one week and gone for 51."
Weeks later, Woods worked with his dad to shift the focus of the foundation to better reflect his personal values: "I said, well, it has to be along the lines of how I grew up. It was family, then academics, and then golf, or whatever sport I was playing at the time." They would later open the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum.
"[T]hat one drive changed our entire directive of my foundation."
• Our College Football Playoff predictions and preseason Top 25 are out. Who will join Clemson and Alabama? (By the SI Staff)
• LeBron James’s best response to Donald Trump was none at all. (By Rohan Nadkarni)
• To understand Wisconsin's awesome O-line, you need to meet them in their element: Red Robin. (By Andy Staples)
• Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson talks Philly Special's retirement, wanting to visit the White House and more with SI. (By Mitch Goldich)
• J.D. Martinez's swing change (and a little bit of a grudge) made him the Astros' greatest mistake. (By Ben Reiter)
• Let rival coaches explain how you (try to) stop the top 20 teams in the country. (By the SI Staff)
VAULT PHOTO OF THE WEEK:
This weekend marks 24 years since baseball's last work stoppage began. The ripple effects of the 1994 MLB players' strike lasted for years, sinking attendance and tarnishing the game's reputation once former commissioner Bud Selig canceled the World Series. Even when teams reopened their gates to fans in 1995, fans refused to relinquish their grudge.
The photo above was taken by John Iacono, just outside Yankee Stadium on April 26, 1995.
WRITER RECALL: WHY I SHARED MY RAY LEWIS STORY
Editor's note: After sharing his difficult experience of trying to question Ray Lewis about his obstruction of justice conviction in 2000, The MMQB's Robert Klemko reveals why he chose to recall the five-year-old episode now and the feedback he received from around the league.
I hadn’t actually thought about my episode with Ray Lewis and the Ravens in a long time. I saw an interview with him last week [ahead of Lewis's induction into the Hall of Fame] filled with softball questions on NFL Network. That brought it all back to mind. Then I thought about the current political climate, and how reporters are being scrutinized more than ever and in many cases unfairly criticized.
I often think about how NFL teams can sometimes behave just like this White House communications staff in terms of limiting access and pushing deliberate misinformation. It felt like a good time to write about how the Ravens insulated Lewis for so many years.
My only trepidation in recalling this experience was how other media relations staffs around the league would interpret it and apply it to their dealings with me. I think a lot of people in the NFL knew that story, but not to that level of detail. I was comforted by a response from a trusted PR guy with another team. He said he enjoyed the piece but he wished that I had added more detail about why I decided to ask Lewis for comment in person rather than go through the Ravens staff. It’s true that if I had a better relationship and sense of trust with the PR staff, and if they hadn’t come off as friends of Ray more than colleagues of Ray, I would’ve felt comfortable going through them and all of this would’ve been avoided. That’s a detail I wish I added to the story.
As for the feedback, I was encouraged by how many people responded positively, though it was discouraging to see so many people taking that extra leap and calling him a murderer. I don’t know what happened that night in Atlanta, and I’m betting none of the guys screaming on Twitter about a white coat do either. Of the negative responses, many people insisted that I felt I was entitled to some in-depth response from Lewis. Quite the contrary: I was 23, new to the beat, and nervous as hell to be asking him about the killings. All I wanted was a quiet “no comment,” which is why I asked to speak with him in private. Instead, he was loud and incredulous and turned an entire organization against me for asking what we at USA Today believed was a fair and responsible question.
There was one note which I considered adding to the story, but just couldn’t find a great place for it: The Ravens were actually awarded the media relations staff of the year award by the Pro Football Writers Association a few months later. Funny thing about that award: it seems only teams that exceed expectations on the field are awarded it (PR staffs love the media when they’re winning). I had a good laugh about that at the time.
BEST OF THE REST
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list is curated by Joan Niesen.
• Andrew Beaton and Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal look at the popularity of Spikeball—a game more commonly associated with beach days and frat bros—in Mennonite Pennsylvania.
• In The New York Times, Andrew Keh tells the story of Pamplona’s taxidermist—with some stunning photographs, to boot.
• Nick Saban is the subject of a phenomenal profile by ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg.
• In The Atlantic, Anna Wiener wades through 13 years of her own Facebook data.
• Rick Maese of the Washington Post tells the story of Gridiron, the video game that preceded Madden NFL.
• In a week full of election coverage, much of it predictable, Charles Bethea of the New Yorker tells the story of the Georgia governor’s race through the lens of a barbershop.
Have ideas or suggestions you'd like to see in the Weekend Read? Reach out to us at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.