ESPN’s Thursday afternoon “Outside the Lines” feature, with Bob Ley, addressed the hubbub surrounding the “noose” cover on the latest issue of Golfweek magazine.
It all started last week, of course, when Golf Channel broadcaster Kelly Tilghman (left) used the word lynch while discussing, with partner Nick Faldo, the steps Tiger Woods’ foes could take to stop him from winning all the time. “Lynch him in a back alley” were Tilghman’s precise words, delivered with a smirk, doubtlessly innocent from the get-go, and clearly intended to be an offhanded—surely tongue-in-cheek—remark. Definitely not a word to be used in reference to an African American, though. I mean....no, you don’t use that word anytime unless the context is clear and clearly not potentially offensive.
My first reaction to the story was, “Well, whoever this Kelly Tilghman is—yet another babe that TV sports execs have hired to keep a job away from a knowledgeable non-jock male?—she’s probably really young and has no sense of the historically charged, negative connotation of the word lynch.” She might be so darn young that the idea of strained racial relations isn’t even on her youthful radar screen. Maybe she’s a truly nouveau member of the broadcasting world—from a new generation in which everyone and everything is absolutely color-blind.
It turns out that Tilghman graduated from Duke in 1991. That makes her close to 40. So, yeah, any broadcaster that age, with any brains at all, should be aware that, years ago, racist Southerners lynched black men. (Maybe the subject never got covered in class at Duke? In Durham, North Carolina?) Whatever...
Fast forward to the ESPN show, where Ley interviewed Golfweek writer Scott Hamilton. I don’t know Hamilton’s work, but if he writes anything like he speaks, then he must be one duffer of a journalist. He bumbled his Neanderthal way through an explanation of how Golfweek editors came to the decision to run the controversial cover picture. He stumblingly admitted that there were no African Americans in on that decision either. Ley’s questioning had subtext: Why would Golfweek run such a cover for any reason other than to stir up the embers of an incident that seemed well on its way to being forgotten? (Tilghman had apologized to Tiger. Tiger claimed no offense taken. Tilghman was suspended for two weeks—for being a dummy, presumably, and not a racist.)
According to Hamilton, Golfweek editors, in running with the cover image, were acknowledging the historical racial issues in the sport. Yeah, there used to be some of those. Such as blacks being barred from playing at all. That was a long time ago—though not as long ago as lynchings.
The game has been dominated for a decade now by a black man, and there are up-and-coming stars who are Asian and Hispanic. Frankly, the diversity has helped the sport tremendously. I daresay your average golf fan would love to see yet another black man step up to challenge Tiger—if only because certainly none of the white guys are having any luck. No one wants to see Tiger challenged because he’s black. We want to see him challenged for the same reason we want to see the Chargers challenge the Patriots this weekend. Because it’s good for the game.
And Golfweek ran the noose cover...why? Because a clueless lady broadcaster used an unfortunate verb, and they saw an opening to go tabloid about it to get attention. That’s why.
If only Tiger weren’t so damn good. Then maybe Golfweek could expend its energies publishing cover stories on some of the other players who were beating him.
Interesting that Golfweek’s website does not feature the cover on its home page. But better smart late, than never at all.