Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, January 09, 2008
"Lynching Tiger Woods"
The issue of race and sports law was a hot topic in 2007 and continues to be in 2008. At the beginning of each new year, along with personal resolutions, I optimistically hope beyond hope that our nation, the United States of America, can take transcendent steps toward alleviating our festering race problem. I always hope that the fields of sports and entertainment might lead the way. Individuals of all different races and stripes join together as teammates to work for common causes on high school, collegiate and professional sports teams.
Unfortunately, barely hours into 2008 we were hit with what can only be described as a breathtaking breach in the world of sports and race equality. A few days ago, while broadcasting a PGA tour event, Kelly Tilghman, the Golf Channel’s main play-by-play anchor commented nonchalantly to co-anchor Nick Faldo when discussing Tiger Woods’ dominance on the Professional Golf Tour that his competitors should “lynch Tiger Woods in a back alley.” Tilghman stated on live television that today’s young players should “lynch Tiger Woods.”!?!
Seriously? In 2007, with nooses making despicable appearances in Jena, Louisiana and at Columbia University; In 2007 where a young black woman, Megan Williams was kidnapped, tortured, sexually assaulted with cords and ropes draped around her neck in southern West Virginia*; In 2008 with the State of New Jersey offering a formal apology for its connections to slavery; In 2008, against the backdrop of a not-to-distant-past national crime against African American citizens in the form of the illegal and reprehensible practice of lynching (as chronicled recently on CNN) – We are presented with a 2008 sports anchor casually dropping the phrase “lynch Tiger Woods in a back alley.” Seriously?
Of course, Tilghman and the Golf Channel have rushed forward with the requisite apologies and have reached out to Woods personally to apologize to him directly. And, as per the usual, the formal Tilghman apology asks forgiveness from those viewers that “may have been offended by my comments.” This "may have been offended" language suggests that Tilghman does not appreciate nor recognize the depth and reprehensibility of her comments. She seems to say: these comments were certainly not meant to be racist and terribly objectionable and if one happens to be an individual that is easily offended, well then my intent was not to offend.
Woods, famous for his multi-culturalism, with an African American father and Thai mother, is one of the most prominent athletes on the planet. As a black man, in a supremely dominant professional position, he is apparently not immune to the racist specter of lynching. In my mind, this is an unforgivable offense by Tilghman -- at least as egregious (if not more so) as Don Imus and his racist reference to the Rutgers female basketball team members as “nappy headed ho’s.”
Perhaps most offensive to some is the Golf Channel’s tepid apology and apparent continued support of Tilghman as its anchor. Certainly Tilghman’s employment contract with the Golf Channel contains a provision that constitutes breach if inflammatory or racist views are espoused over the airwaves. If so, the question remains: what is the Golf Channel waiting on? Imus was shown the door.
Simply stated, any reference in this country to the lynching of a black athlete cannot be excused away. Ever. And certainly not in 2008.
A few questions: Will Tiger Woods respond? The Sports Law Blog contemplated this last year. Will the U.S. public care? The Sports Law Blog contemplated this a few days ago in the context of Roger Clemens and the assassination of Bhutto.
* Megan Williams is a 20 year old African American woman from Charleston, WV. She went missing and for six nightmarish days was held hostage in a mobile home and tortured by six white perpetrators, four men and two women, in Big Creek, WV. Her story became national news. An anonymous tip led Logan County Sheriff’s deputies to the property where her ordeal ended as she was able to limp to safety, arms outstretched as she cried “Help me!” Williams was tortured for days, sexually assaulted, beaten and forced to eat animal feces. Her captors choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while calling her racial slurs, pouring hot water over her and making her drink from a toilet.