Column (Jamie Kapalko): Lack of sensitivity with lynching shows lack of progress

Jamie Kapalko

One week before the Super Bowl, in the midst of pigskin pandemonium, a Google news search turns up more articles about golf than football. On the brink of Black History Month, the sport is embroiled in yet another sticky race-related situation.

Three weeks ago during the Golf Channel broadcast of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, announcer Nick Faldo joked, “To take Tiger on, maybe [other golfers] should just gang up [on him] for a while.”

His fellow announcer, Kelly Tilghman, added, “Lynch him in a back alley.”

Golf Channel executives everywhere cringed in unison as Tilghman stuck her foot in her mouth.

Two days later, during the final round broadcast, Tilghman apologized for her comment. It may have ended there if Newsday hadn’t picked up the story and Al Sharpton hadn’t picked up his megaphone, but they did, and the Golf Channel suspended Tilghman for two weeks. Woods issued a statement, calling Tilghman a friend, her statement innocently intended and the entire situation a “non-issue.” This may or may not be his true opinion; ever the media and marketing master, Woods is about as controversial and offensive as toothbrushes and birthday cake. Really, who hates Tiger Woods? No one. This is why he is the king of endorsement deals.

Anyway, I agree with Woods’ statement about Tilghman’s intentions. I don’t think she deserves a more severe punishment. She’s no Don Imus, with a history of offensive comments. Golf announcers talk for four hours straight several days in a row; I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

I truly don’t think racism is the issue here. The issue is historical insensitivity. Last year, Ben and Jerry’s debuted a new ice cream flavor – Black & Tan. They apologized to Irish people when they were informed that the Black and Tans were a British paramilitary force that terrorized Irish citizens during 1920 and 1921. They didn’t know or think enough about it. Similarly, people need to be aware of our country’s not-so-distant history. A reflection on lynching should be painful for all Americans – not just black Americans.

Lynching is defined as the execution of an individual by a mob without due process of law. It is classified as a hate crime. Lynching is most commonly associated with Southern white supremacists attempting to enforce the Jim Crow laws in the post-Civil War period. People were branded, beaten, burned and hanged in front of crowds of thousands. Black Americans were not the only victims; Italian, Mexican and Chinese immigrants were also lynched in the late 19th century. Those responsible for lynching were usually not punished, and the targeted groups lived in fear.

We must be aware of loaded words and phrases and what they represent, so that we don’t use them inappropriately. Tilghman has surely learned this point over the past few weeks, but the story doesn’t end here.

Last week’s cover of Golfweek showed a picture of a noose next to the headline, “Caught in a Noose: Tilghman slips up, and Golf Channel can’t wriggle free.” They wanted to shock people; they wanted attention. They wanted to drag out something that had already reached a satisfying conclusion. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem called it tabloid journalism, Fred Couples called Editor Dave Seanor an idiot, and even Barack Obama weighed in, saying, “There’s nothing funny about a noose. There’s a profound history that people have been dealing with, and those memories are ones that can’t be played with.”

Golfweek used the cover to make people react. This isn’t always a bad thing, if it’s done intelligently and thoughtfully. This wasn’t, though, because the issue being discussed and the magnitude of the cover were disproportionate.

Seanor was subsequently fired due to the cover last Friday.

After his firing, Seanor commented, “I wish we could have come up with something that made the same statement but didn’t create as much negative reaction, but as this has unfolded, I’m glad there’s dialogue. Let’s talk about this, and the lack of diversity in golf.”

This statement would make sense if the cover had been about the lack of diversity in golf, but it wasn’t.

Of all people, former NBA star Charles Barkley provided some of the most interesting insight: “I don’t want to hear that the golf industry’s biggest problem is something Kelly Tilghman said. If Golfweek really wanted to examine racism, as the editor said he did, they would look at golf and country clubs excluding Jews and black folks … look at their restrictive policies and explain why the only black folks you see at most clubs are working in the kitchen … just like it was 100 years ago.”

The Tilghman incident, though indicative of the problem of historical insensitivity, was managed appropriately by all parties involved. Golfweek, in an attempt to raise it from the dead, actually made itself the biggest bonehead. Golfweek – and maybe all of us – should have taken a lesson from Golf World. The sport’s other weekly magazine featured Bill Spiller on its cover. Sixty years ago, Spiller fought for decades to enter the PGA at a time when its constitution allowed only white men to become members. In great part thanks to him, the rule was changed in 1961. February is Black History Month. Read. Think. Learn.

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Jamie Kapalko is a junior English major from Belmar, N.J. She can be reached at [email protected]