When word gets in the way

There's a small controversy in the world of professional golf, which, as golf goes, is about the only types of controversies they are able to produce.

In this case, Golf Channel announcer Kelly Tilghman, apparently tired of people misspelling her name, made a comment during a golf telecast that has brought down hellfire upon her.

Commenting on Tiger Woods and his dominance of the game, Tilghman remarked that young PGA Tour players should "lynch him in a back alley" somewhere so they can get some wins, as well.

Ok, bad, bad move, Kelly. Now, she's been suspended for two weeks by the Golf Channel, has angered some fans, and has the Rev. Al Sharpton calling for her dismissal.

For his part, Tiger Woods - who wasn't even at the event - quickly let out a press release to state that this was a non-issue for him. In fact, Tiger not long ago had his own problem with word choice, when after an event in which he didn't win, he said he "putted like a spazz out there." While Americans were unfazed by this remark, over in the UK, the mental health industry took Tiger to task, as "spazz" is considered much more a slur against the mentally handicapped there. Woods quickly apologized.

Of course, one can not think of Woods and racist remarks without thinking of Fuzzy Zoeller, who during the Masters, remarked to the press that they should tell him not to order "fried chicken and collard greens" for the following year's pre-Masters dinner (the previous year's winner chooses what the players eat in a ceremonial dinner before the Masters. Woods won the year Zoeller made his comments and got to chose. The 21-year-old picked hamburgers and milkshakes.)

Zoeller's comments were ultimately forgiven by Woods, but they've dogged Zoeller since. He was once one of the world's most popular golfers. Now, instead of his play, he's remembered for those words and for his attitude in speaking them.

But as Tiger said, for the most part, it is a non-issue. Tilghman doesn't make her career like Don Imus, Chris Matthews, Michael Savage or Glenn Beck. She doesn't intentionally insert bigoted, homophobic or sexist language into her day to spark controversy and drive ratings. No, she's a young announcer who used the wrong word and offended people.

Is it wrong for those like Sharpton to demand her firing? No, of course not. But they are bringing attention to it, which is what they do. This incident likely won't harm Tilghman's career too much (though I don't think much of her as a golf announcer, especially when hall of fame golfer Dottie Pepper and her powerful personality are on the sidelines), but it will be something she remembers. I know something about remembering horrific statements

More than 20 years ago, I was driving a truck in Southern California and worked with an African-American guy I got along real well with. We talked a lot, had beers together, etc. Then one day, while helping him load his truck I saw something that would require a little extra finesse. Afterwards my friend noticed and laughed at how I had loaded the truck (it was ugly, but it was safe and worked) and I said, "Well, you know, I just n-----rigged it."

A long silence. Then life went on. I never mentioned that slip of the tongue to him again, and I'm sure his opinion of me rightfully plummeted. I was young and stupid, and still get pangs of pain for not apologizing immediately, or, in fact, ever. Because I was, and am still sorry. I have no idea why I said that, and it was a term I had likely never spoken aloud before. But there it was.

I'm not the same 21-year-old now, though, so I don't particularly hold myself as a racist, though in Portly Dyke's brilliant post "Trying to Get White People to Talk About Racism is Like . . . ," I do accept that I, like all of us, have racist issues.

"Many (if not most) white people, have very little awareness of their privilege as white people," wrote PD.

Her words ring true. That was my mistake two decades ago. It was Tilghman's mistake a week ago. But regardless of her skin color, this is an issue that should be discussed. The right-wing - as is their want in such things - blow it off as "political correctness" and that people should stop being so sensitive. It is their classic, and eternal battle to keep racial, sexist and homophobic slurs imbeded in the national vocabulary and psyche.

In the end, Tilghman got what she deserved probably. A two-week suspension and plenty of people looking at her differently. It's likely she'll rebound. But the fact is, she's human. So she's racist. We all are to a point. The progressive amongst us fight that and try to learn about and improve ourselves. Others just try to edit themselves and are disgusted they can't use any word they want. Others just don't care.

But all those -isms are inside all of us. None of us can claim complete purity when it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, or what not. But as humans we are aware that we evolve. And if we face our own issues down, and don't pass them along to younger generations, than we've done our part to help the human race continue to evolve.

This is what slips of the tongue like Tilghman's should bring, in the end. Introspection. Who knows where Tilghman's career will head, but it is a sure thing she's spent a lot of this and the following weeks in introspection. I know I did, and still do. Hopefully Tilghman helped a lot of others take a look at themselves, as well. In the end, that can be the power of one stupidly used word.


Crossposted at WilliamKWolfrum.com

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