Monday, February 1, 2010

Black History Month Heroes: Chubbs Peterson from "Happy Gilmore"

Black history is littered with failed attempts at creating vocational integration moments worthy of adulation by the masses. For every Jackie Robinson, there are hundreds of Black individuals who were the first in a specified category, whether by being the first Black person to eat at Dunkin Donuts or to roll a “Yahtzee” in the eponymous game.

Black History Month celebrates the accomplishments and achievements of Black people, yet few people stop and actually consider the melancholy truth behind this anointed month: outside of Civil Rights agitators, sports and entertainment stars and the indelible “first” – i.e. first Black astronaut, first Black student at Ole Miss (or insert university here, first Black pilot) – few Black people have done much worthy of commendation and commemoration.

Thus, SBPDL has decided to fill the void of real-life Black heroes (entertainers and sports figures are performing tasks that have precious little value to the real world) and discuss those important Black figures in fiction (film, television, etc.) who are worthy of including in the pantheon of Black people celebrated during Black History Month:

“We have stated that film and television have helped “mainstream” positive images of Black people to the general public, and without Dr. Huxtable and The Cosby Show (and countless other images from cinema and TV) where would Black people.

This Black History Month, we honor the true stars of Black history. Not Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman or Barry “Mein” Obama. No, these Black people are merely creations of Disingenuous White Liberals and their importance is buttressed by the incessant rantings of Crusading White Pedagogues bent on reinforcing fabrications packaged as truths.

No, we honor the true heroes of Black history, those fictional characters that can be watched with reverence in films and television, who have the capability of filling our hearts with joy and work to disprove negative stereotypes of an entire people.”

Ever since the knowledge of Tiger Woods infidelity became public (his terrifying fall from grace), the golfing world has been reeling. The PGA Tour is without a Token Black person to raise the banner of diversity (proper diversity only includes Black people), and with Tiger Woods’ multitudinous indiscretions, pro golf is at a crossroads littered with white faces.

In 1996, The New York Times wrote this prescient op-ed, which discussed how Woods would open the door to “colored” golfer’s en mass:

Chances are, though, that Woods will be a symbol in the same way that only token changes have occurred at most of the 6,000 private golf clubs in the United States. Golf may have opened its arms to Woods, but with relatively few exceptions, club doors are still closed to black players.

No one was surprised last week when Woods announced he would become a professional: he had just won a phenomenal third consecutive amateur title, and has already been compared to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Although Woods has been preceded by such prominent older black golfers as Charlie Sifford and Calvin Peete, he is the first player with an African-American heritage seen to be a potential superstar. (His father is black; his mother is Thai.)

Those who view his success as a victory for civil rights believe it opens the way for young minority golfers inspired by his example. They also hope that more private clubs will admit black members. For one thing, black business professionals, like their white counterparts, know that golf games and private club membership are big assets when it comes to dealmaking.

Did this happen? No. The PGA is still awash in whiteness, and with Tiger Woods’ impending sabbatical from game, golf will descend into the boring monotone, monochromatic world it was in prior to his arrival:

Ten years after he joined the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods still stands alone. And not just because he’s so good.

Woods was supposed to open the sport up to black kids in America and around the world. Yet a decade later, he remains the only black golfer on the tour. This week, he plays at the U.S. Open, being run by the USGA, which talks about bringing minorities into the sport but doesn’t have a single one on its executive committee.

“Am I disappointed? Yeah,” Woods said when asked about the dearth of blacks at the highest levels of golf. “I thought there would be more of us out here.”…

With much fanfare, the PGA Tour established the First Tee program eight years ago, an attempt to bring the game to the inner city and get more minorities involved. In many ways, the program has been a success. Of its 450,000 participants, 44 percent are white, 27 percent are black and 10 percent are Hispanic. In all of golf, 84 percent of the players are white.”

Thankfully, cinema has supplied us with a Black golfer worthy of tribute. From the only funny Adam Sandler film “Happy Gilmore” comes the enduring legacy of one of the potential all-time Black golfers, Chubbs Peterson. Under his tutelage, Happy Gilmore is able to win a spot on the professional golf tour. Sadly, Peterson – played by Carl Weathers – never had the same success as Gilmore, for reasons Happy originally believes is due to his skin being chocked full of melanin:

Chubbs: Back in 1965, Sports Illustrated said I was going to be the next Arnold Palmer.
Happy Gilmore: Yeah? What happened?
Chubbs: They wouldn't let me play on the Pro Tour anymore.
Happy Gilmore: Ah, I'm sorry. Because you're black?
Chubbs: Hell no! Damned alligator BIT my hand off!
[Shows Happy his wooden hand]
Happy Gilmore: OH MY GOD!
Chubbs: Yeah. tournament down in Florida. I hooked my ball in the rough down by the lake. Damned alligator just POPPED up, cut me down on my prime. He got me, but I tore one of that bastard's eyes out though. Look at that.
[Shows Happy a small glass jar with an eyeball in it]
Happy Gilmore: You're pretty sick, Chubbs.

Chubbs could have been the greatest Black golfer ever, but the dietary habits of an alligator deprived him of his hand, and thus, a stellar career in professional golf. He was able to educate Happy Gilmore in the intricacies and nuisances of golf, so his memory lived on in the form of a hockey player trapped in the body of golfer.

Chubbs was modeled after pioneering Black golfer Lee Elder, who faced massive indifference when he was on the tour:

Through the mist he appeared in a doorway of the Augusta National clubhouse, his forehead creased, his eyes heavy from haunted sleep. Out stepped Lee Elder, dressed in shades of green, carrying his thoughts into the moist Georgia morning. For months the hate mail had said he would never make it to this day in April 1975. Watch your step when you get to Augusta, other letter writers warned him. There will be blood…

For blacks, professional golf meant the United Golf Association (UGA), like baseball's Negro leagues an organization with superior talent but inferior facilities and prize money. Though Brown was scoring touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns and Willie Mays was patrolling centerfield for the San Francisco Giants, the PGA's "Caucasian only" clause didn't come off the books until 1961.”

Everyone loves stories of the athlete cut-down in their prime, with the opportunity for adulation and fame denied to them, but an indomitable spirit remains that is passed like the Olympic Torch to the athlete they hope to mentor and live vicariously through. Chubbs found his Happy.

Stuff Black People Don’t Like is pleased to include Chubbs Peterson as one of the more worthy inclusions in the fictional world of Black History Month, for professional golf has had so few precious Black people to cheer for over 18-holes of golf. Though an alligator deprived us all of the glory that would have been Chubbs career, the memory of his skill was passed onto Happy Gilmore.

Only through cinema, can the hopes and wishes of an entire people be realized. And Black people have their great golfer in Chubbs Peterson, for Tiger Woods isn’t considered Black anyway right now.

Golf has a Black star we can all be proud of and always remember: It’s all in the hips.

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