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Kelly Tilghmangate: A Seventy-Eighth Look

Jan. 31, 2008     By     Comments (22)

Kelly Tilghman had golf on the front pages for a few days earlier this season. Check out one man's (hopefully) unique spin on the issue.

Thrash TalkWhile I'm sure most people would be happy to have heard the last of the Kelly Tilghman Affair, after mulling the situation over for several weeks I've decided I would be remiss not to give it the once over in The Sand Trap's op/ed space. Let's face it, January is a slow news month in golf (Tiger romps at Torrey Pines… why am I not surprised?), and this is a political issue in an election year (here in the U.S., anyway). Pass up reading this and just visit the forum if you will, but if you read on I can promise to give you a thing or two to chew on.

To briefly review, Golf Channel's team of Kelly Tilghman and Nick Faldo were engaged in some light-hearted repartee on the subject of Tiger's dominance of professional golf. Faldo asked rhetorically what other players might do to possibly compete with golf's version of a Superhero, said "gang up on him for awhile." In the joking vein of their exchange, Tilghman suggested that other top players "lynch him in a back alley." The racist overtones of this comment were too much for Golf Channel executives, who suspended Tilghman for two weeks, after which the anchor issued a public apology and resumed her duties as lead anchor.

Upon reflection, I think the person who impressed me the most in all of this is Tiger himself, and more by what he didn't say than what he did. Although some people criticize him for steering clear of controversy or refusing to take a stand on contentious issues, his stance on this sort of things is, like his golf stance, balanced, powerful, and just about perfect. He acknowledged Tilghman's comment so as to both gently condemn the error in judgement, while not in any way drawing attention to himself or otherwise inflaming the situation any further. Smooth as one of his dead hand pitches. (As an aside, there is also the issue of labeling Tiger as an African American. He is of mixed racial background, and I sometimes wonder if he resents being "used" in matters such as this as a racial symbol that might not match his self-image…yet another reason to admire the dignity of his reaction.)

My own reaction, the initial, gut one, was more emotional. "Here we go again," I thought, "now we have to listen to worn out "racism" rants for the next six months." Not to sound bigoted or insensitive, but sometimes it seems to me that "concerned" political figures and erudite-sounding newspeople hover over the media landscape like buzzards, waiting to feast on something like this. And the rest of us end up being force fed the scavenged meal.

I don't for a minute condone what Tilghman said, nor do I mean to trivialize it. Maybe her use of "lynching" was in the generic sense, and not in a racially-charged tone. I will admit that I had to think for a moment before the historical connotations of the term "lynching" came to mind. Maybe she was caught up in the moment, thinking more about the banter and repartee with Faldo, and simply chose her words incorrectly. But her intention, or any momentary lack of judgement, however innocent, really doesn't matter. Once she opened her mouth, the damage was done. You can't put the manure back in the horse.

For me, this matter was a fairly substantial screw up for Tilghman on two counts: first, as a matter of etiquette, and second, as an issue of professionalism. I don't think any fair analysis of the situation, or of Tilghman herself, would conclude that she is a racist or intended racial overtones in her remarks. But etiquette, matters of civility, things you just do because they are right and considerate of others, these are things that seem to be vanishing from our society's repertoire of common, expected behavior. In this sense, I see Tilghman's comments as analagous to Natalie Gulbis's posing for a photgraph sitting on an American flag after winning last year's Evian Masters. Yeah, she didn't mean to be unpatriotic, but whether you mean it or not, sitting on the flag is just wrong. No harm? Perhaps, or at least not too much. No foul? Uh uh.

It is as a professional, however, that I believe Tilghman really shanked one here. Of all the words she could have used, of all the directions she could have taken the discussion, to end up on "lynching" seems ridiculous for a professional broadcaster. Words count for all of us, but if your business, your livelihood, your profession is the act of speaking, doesn't an error like this seem even more egregious? Yeah, we all make mistakes, but one like this, at the heart of your mission as a professional, it tough to swallow. If I were Tilghman, I think it would be this aspect of the whole thing that would keep me awake at night more than anything else.

In the end, I think the issue was handled correctly. The network had to acknowledge what happened, and take some sort of appropriate,measured action. By suspending Tilghman but not firing her, they struck the proper balance between respect for any offended listeners, common sense, and a spirit of forgiveness to a hard-working young professional.

Judging by the results at Torrey Pines, Tiger has certainly, uh, moved on. Let's hope the rest of the golf world follows suit.

Discussion

  1. Ernest Reed says:

    Well written opinion! The truth of the matter has been finally pinpointed. Tilghman is guilty of being somewhat unprofessional, which is a surprise considering the number of years she has been on TGC. The analysis that politics have taken this one over is spot on. Those like Al Sharpton, who never misses an opportunity, and lessers like the incredibly uneducated Jim Brown, who took time out of a non-existent schedule to lambaste Tiger for not doing enough to further the "cause", identifies a prevailing sensitivity that permeates our society as a whole...It's good to be politically correct! It's actually a very bad thing. Tilghman will pay the price for a moment of foolishness, no doubt. However, why are those like Sharpton even being given a platform to espouse their venom? In the end this has become very sad and moreso, incredibly pathetic. I thought we were beyond such pettiness? Guess not.

  2. David says:

    A storm in a very manufactured tea cup by those who are envious of kelly. The whole thing is absolute nonsense. :roll:

  3. A storm in a very manufactured tea cup by those who are envious of kelly. The whole thing is absolute nonsense. :roll:

    Disagreed. As JP says, if your job is speaking, you should probably stay away from making jokes about murdering your sport's top draw, "racially tinted" or not.

    Did you read what JP had to say or just post your knee-jerk reaction without consideration for JP's thoughts?

  4. David says:

    No it's absolute nonsense, many would have said the same thing , just because he's black there is a conniption. Not even Tiger would give your comments house room. In fact he'd laugh it off as would I, were I in his position.

    It's only a small minded minority that would even begin to think that way.

  5. just because he's black there is a conniption.

    Remove race from the equation entirely and she still joked about murdering someone, which I would say is beyond the bounds of "tasteful."

    Tiger, FWIW, did the politically correct thing. Ever since his "Cablinasian" comment he's minimized political and racial topics in his life, career, etc. It's good PR and he's advised well on such topics.

    Also FWIW, I'm not black and neither is JP, and I still doubt that you've actually read and given thought to what he said in the article.

  6. Jeff says:

    Great article.

    I was and will continue to be impressed by Tiger's extremely mature response. Perhaps his response was PC, alright it definitely was, but I think it says a lot about his character. He didn't whip the issue into a froth. He acknowledged the senseless and stupid nature of Tilghman's words, accepted her apology, and went back to his life and career. Tilghman messed up big time.

    As a white guy I don't mean to trivialize this important issue or the atrocities that many endured so recently in our nation's history. It is sickening to think of what some of our fellow citizens suffered right here in the United States. The place full of people that should have protected them.

    I think there is much we can learn from this episode. How can America overcome the racial divide? I think the best way is to follow the example of Mr. Woods. I want to follow his lead in this regard. He spoke volumes about how reconciliation works.

  7. wachesawgolfer says:

    Face it, some people just do not like Kelly. The thread, is she hot, went on forever with many people here making snide comments on her sexuality and most not really liking her. Could her words been more PC, you bet and her cardinal sin was not realizing that. We live in world where everyone' s feelings are so easily hurt or at least they say so. But who is really hurt, who is really laughing, and who is pushing an agenda, who knows. We know Kelly is successful and that makes her vulnerable. Too many people gloat over other people's downfall and misery. Hopefully, enough said on this miniscule news item of such stellar importance. Wasn't importance to Tiger. Only sane one in the bunch.

  8. Allin says:

    The comments on professionalism were spot on. As many non scripted words as TV types spout mistakes are inevitable. At least if we don't want completely bland commentary.

    From a political perspective the Al Sharptons of the world maintain their positions by pointing out every transgression and trumpeting to the world their challenge, as if to prove that without them we would instantly return to the days of Jim Crowe or worse. Unfortunately by trivializing the issues in this way they make it easier to avoid responding thoughtfully to race and class issues which chronically need our attention.

  9. Face it, some people just do not like Kelly. ... Too many people gloat over other people's downfall and misery.

    I know you didn't intend it to come off that way, but who are you to tell others what should or should not offend them OR to determine the "true reasons" why others found fault with Kelly for her statements?

    I'm not black, I don't resent Kelly's position in the world of golf, and I'm guessing JP doesn't either. Yet both of us feel that her statement was in gross error and that the punishment she received was fine. We also believe that the various media outlets go overboard, as they tend to do, when covering this story - but then again, that's what media does. Because who really cares that Britney went out without underwear?

    As for Tiger's reaction, it's just what I expected it to be. The guy's got good advisors and a level head on his shoulders. It'd be stupid of him to get involved in a big race discussion, just as it's dumb to assume that the only people who find fault with what Kelly said resent her success.

  10. DFife says:

    I don't understand why anyone thought Tiger would say anything more than he did. Tiger's response was everything that we've come to expect from him. When his father made the comment with regards to being bigger than Nelson Mandela people thought he would take the role of socially conscious athlete. However, his true focus is purely golf and building the Tiger brand. Providing an opinion on a discussion of race would only distract him from his primary focus of playing golf. Maybe after he's done with competitive golf he'll be more apt to offer his opinion. However, I don't think he will ever involve himself in anything that may distract him from his professional goals.

  11. JP Bouffard says:

    No it's absolute nonsense, many would have said the same thing , just because he's black there is a conniption. Not even Tiger would give your comments house room. In fact he'd laugh it off as would I, were I in his position.

    It's only a small minded minority that would even begin to think that way.

    I'm not sure what you're calling nonsense. If you mean an uproar from Al Sharpton over a "racist" remark, I'd agree, that suggestion is nonsense.

    But her comments were not something I consider trivial, and I don't think I'm in a minority. During Sandy Koufax's dominance in baseball (Koufax is Jewish), how would it have gone over if a TV announcer had suggested that some of his National League opponents "incinerate" him?

    I'm not saying someone doesn't have the right to make a joke about race, or that using a term like "lynch" proves racist intent.

    What I'm saying is that, like it or not, words have overtones and shades of meaning, and the respectful, courteous, professional thing to do is to try to avoid using words that hurt others, even when you don't intend any harm.

    I'm not arguing for political correctness laws, or for imprisoning someone for saying something stupid or offensive. But that doesn't mean that such comments aren't in poor taste, or shouldn't be avoided, by choice.

  12. Trav says:

    I'm not arguing for political correctness laws, or for imprisoning someone for saying something stupid or offensive. But that doesn't mean that such comments aren't in poor taste, or shouldn't be avoided, by choice.

    JP you are dead right, but don't expect your critics ever to admit your point. All they see is Al Sharpton's uninformed (I read somewhere he thought she was a man) and comical excesses, not the real issue. Indeed, the fact that your comment generated this criticism should show Ms. T of why it is important for her to be more aware.

  13. Elton B. says:

    I do think Kelly's comments were ill advised, but I wasn't as impressed with Tiger's "balanced" reaction as you were.

    If he was convinced that she meant no ill intent and if they truly are friends, then he should have offered a more strident response in her defense. And he should have done it personally. Instead, he issued a weak statement through a representative that allowed Ms. Tilghman to be burned in effigy by Al Sharpton and others.

  14. Michael says:

    A well conceived piece - I am generally in agreement. One thing that has me confused though - where is the moral outrage at the blatantly misogynist and sexist forum threads about "Creamer v Gulbis" and Tilghman's "hotness" on this site. For heavens sake. I don't see articles or forums where people debate the "hunkiness" or otherwise of Phil or Tiger etc.

  15. Michael says:

    I really do think that one of Tilhgman's sins, according to a lot of the readers of this forum is that she is a very succesful woman in what appears to be a very "blokey" (Aussie term) world. My opinion is that she is an exceptionally knowledgeable and astute student of the game and her comments are informative and (99.99% of the time!) well though out and measured. I would be very interested what the reaction would have been had it been Faldo or McCord who made the faux pas. It was a terrible thing to say, but to suggest that it was anything other than a dumb slip-up or momentary lapse is ridiculous. About as idiotic a some of the members here who continue to attempt tp prove that Phil is in some way a superior player to TW.

  16. shortgame85 says:

    Well thought out and well written commentary. I have enjoyed reading the follow up comments, as well.

  17. One thing that has me confused though - where is the moral outrage at the blatantly misogynist and sexist forum threads about "Creamer v Gulbis" and Tilghman's "hotness" on this site. For heavens sake. I don't see articles or forums where people debate the "hunkiness" or otherwise of Phil or Tiger etc.

    This "article" doesn't discuss or even mention the "hotness" of Kelly Tilghman, and a forum thread shouldn't be confused with an "article."

    And just because you don't believe there are threads out there which discuss just how cute Adam Scott is doesn't mean they don't exist. They do. You see the male-generated ones more because a) you're a man, and b) more men play golf than women, so reasonable to expect more posts from men on golf forums.

    My wife visits a scrapbooking forum that's 99.99% women, and they discuss just how cute actors, athletes, and others are.

    Now, let's get back to the topic at hand, shall now?

  18. wachesawgolfer says:
    Face it, some people just do not like Kelly. ... Too many people gloat over other people's downfall and misery.

    it's dumb to assume that the only people who find fault with what Kelly said resent her success.

    I said "some" and "too many" not "only" If you quote me please do so correctly. There are no absolutes on this matter.

  19. Falkenhayn says:

    Tilghman's comment is most certainly unprofessional. Not excusing her one bit, but some of the blame should be placed on the gradual transformation over the years of what "anchoring" means.

    Just watch your local TV news; the talking heads are all Chatty Kathies, hamming it up with one another with ad lib, off the cuff comments. If you're old enough to remember the gravitas of Huntley/Brinkley and Edward R. Morrow, you can see why those guys would never let slip up like Kelly did. The culture is now one of "gee whiz, what regular folks we are". You're bound to make gaffes.

  20. Lamar says:

    Tighman's comment, which was wrong, was described as racist, but if you are mixed race as Tiger considers himself to be, but objects as some (Sharpton) wants him to do, does he not wrongly identify himself as a black person?
    At one time a person with any black blood was identified as black--by guess who- whites. A judgment accepted too long by blacks. This was a political judgment and had nothing to do with science. I know some will be offended by my saying so but if a black person and a white person have a child that child will not be black, nor white, but mixed, just as when you breed a collie with a chow you don't get a collie or a chow, you get a mix!!! (By the by I am sometimes offended by some people being offended).
    Speaking of which (being offended) remember when Jimmy The Greek was fired for saying that white athletes were lazy, that black athletes worked harder, were better athletes, and besides which they were bred for it by white slave owners? Who should be offended here? Slave owners? White guys? Black guys? Sometimes one has cause to be offended by something but I think in some cases they claim to be offended when they are being praised, or at leasr not being insulted, and I am offended by that!

  21. nytram says:

    He's not BLACK so he say's so why does it matter', just more media woods smoke screen protecting there asset.
    And as for Al .S guess he has a similar problem staying the news !!

  1. [... While I'm sure most people would be happy to have heard the last of the Kelly Tilghman Affair, after mulling the situation over for several weeks I've decided I would ...]

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