The controversy surrounding Golf Channel commentator Kelly Tilghman's on-air remark of Jan. 4--when she jokingly suggested that junior players might have to "lynch" Tiger Woods to have a chance of winning --was fair warning that lynching is not a comedy gold mine in public discourse. It's more like a third rail.
Of course, Tilghman apologized profusely, and Woods graciously issued a statement saying her ill-considered remark was a "non-issue"; otherwise she could have lost her job. (She was suspended for two weeks instead.) The apology, and Woods' public response, both seemed sincere--affirming that Tilghman hadn't even thought of the word's historical connotation before she spoke.
The second time around, however, it's harder to make that argument. Once the remark becomes a topic for public discussion, everyone knows what the controversy is about, and any later reference--far from being unwitting--plugs directly into the racial subtext. In fact, that's the whole point; that's why it's an issue.
Which leads us to the question: what, in God's name, was Golfweek thinking?
On the cover of its Jan. 19 issue, the Turnstile Publishing title featured a close-up of a noose set against an evening sky, as if to recreate the historical context of lynchings. which mostly took place at night. The puny headline reads: "Caught in a Noose: Tilghman slips up, and Golf Channel can't wriggle free." The lighthearted text and the creepy image don't quite match up, to put it mildly.
The backlash against the magazine, which hit the newsstands Jan. 16, came even faster than the reaction to Tilghman's original comment. Tim Finchem, the PGA tour commissioner, lashed out at the magazine with remarks quoted in USA Today. By the 18th, editor David Seanor was out, replaced by Jeff Babineau.
Ironically, the article itself, by Scott Hamilton, takes the standard line, noting the need for more "diversity training" at the Golf Channel and in the insular world of golf generally. An evenhanded and thoughtful piece, it gently opines that the controversy may be overblown--and laments that Tilghman may yet lose her job, while still placing the blame firmly on her doorstep. After all, Hamilton warns, broadcasters are public figures who must consider every word they say.
Seanor might have considered this sensible advice before approving the cover. But for now (to mix sports metaphors) he has beaten Tilghman to the Finish line.