April 26, 1997 in Sports

Knock Off Racial Slurs Right Now

Steve Kelley The Seattle Times
 

This is exactly what Tiger Woods deals with every day on the golf tour.

The unfunny quips from the good ol’ boys. The whispers around the putting green, on the practice tee and on the course as he walks through the gallery from green to tee.

The disingenuous greetings from the officials on the tour’s weekly stops. The lukewarm reception he receives from many of his fellow pros.

Inflammatory ethnic slurs, like those delivered by Fuzzy Zoeller in a taped interview with CNN at the Masters, are the kinds of comments Tiger Woods hears all the time.

Only because of his skin color, only because of his race, Woods is subjected to these pressures every time he tees off. Every round he plays, there are people rooting against him because he isn’t white.

At Augusta, the whitest place on Earth, Zoeller called Woods a “little boy.” He said he hoped Woods wouldn’t put fried chicken and collard greens on the menu at next year’s Champions Dinner. The defending champion is in charge of the menu.

Zoeller’s defense? He said he’s a jokester. You tell me what’s funny about such mean-spiritedness. You tell me if Tiger Woods, or any person of color, laughed when he heard Zoeller’s remarks.

Woods hears such “jokes” all the time. He hears them from the other side of the locker stalls. He hears them from the next table at dinner.

The day after Woods had won one of his U.S. Amateur titles, an African-American sportswriter was in the locker room at the Seniors Tour event. He heard the golfers talking disgustedly about “the boy’s little dance” after Woods had won.

That “dance” was no different than the celebrations of Tom Watson or Jack Nicklaus or any other great golfer after a dramatic championship victory. But because Woods was a golfer of color, these pros were offended.

That same sportswriter was stopped the same day by a security guard at the clubhouse door even though he was wearing the proper credentials. White journalists with the same credentials were coming and going without question.

This is what people of color deal with in the white world of sports.

This is supposed to be a time of heightened enlightenment, but earlier this year, New Jersey Nets coach John Calipari referred to a reporter as “a Mexican idiot.” And Miami Heat broadcaster David Halberstam wondered what kind of basketball team Thomas Jefferson’s slaves could have produced.

Money punishes. Calipari and Halberstam were fined by the NBA.

Acting quickly and correctly, Kmart dropped Zoeller as its golf spokesman this week. Zoeller’s ignorance eventually will cost him hundreds of thousands of endorsement dollars.

The message is simple and direct: “If you are going to make remarks that are obviously offensive, you have to pay the price.” Such thoughtlessness has become an occupational hazard for public figures like Zoeller.

But this utterance was just the one that went public. Who knows how many thousands of such jokes have been directed at Woods, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Jim Thorpe, the golfers of color.

Zoeller pulled out of this week’s Greter Greensboro Open, saying, “I have to make things right with Tiger before anything else.”

Woods accepted Zoeller’s apology Thursday without accepting Zoeller’s ignorance.

“At first I was shocked,” Woods said. “His attempt at humor was out of bounds, and I was disappointed by it.”

These quips Zoeller thought were harmless are the ones people of color hear whispered, like background music, all the time. And now it will be up to Fuzzy the Jokester to spread the word to his fellow golfers that the jokes and the whispers must end.

xxxx

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