Golf and race

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Dave Seanor (the editor of Golfweek magazine who approved a recent cover featuring a noose) was canned. The firing made sense for a very basic reason that had nothing to do with racism – Seanor made a ham-fisted effort at generating buzz for his magazine, and any person with an ounce of common sense could have predicted the shitstorm that would follow its publication. Pissing off readers (and by association your advertisers) is career suicide in the newspaper/magazine world.

But beyond the colossal bad taste exhibited by Seanor, there was a real missed opportunity here. While the actual story accompanying the noose image focused almost exclusively on a single comment made by Golf Channel announcer Kelly Tilghman, it missed the bigger picture. And that is what appears to be a not altogether minor undercurrent of racism in the American golf world. I’m not saying that Seanor or Tilghman are racists (but at a very minimum they are incredibly stupid), but they are not the first people in golf to be targeted for what certainly appear to be racist words or deeds.

Remember Fuzzy Zoeller? Speaking about Tiger Woods – who had just won the 1997 Masters tournament – Zoeller said, “That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. He’s doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it. Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.” His defense was that he was just joking, but that’s a lame excuse. That joke came from somewhere. And I don’t believe for a second that he is an aberration in the game.

And speaking of the Masters, it wasn’t until 1990 that home course Augusta National admitted their first black member (they still won’t allow women to join, but that’s another matter). That’s 43 years after Jackie Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut, 44 years after the L.A. Rams became the first modern NFL team to integrate, and 32 years after Willie O’Ree became the first black player in the NHL (yes, hockey!).

I certainly don’t want to paint all golfers with a broad brush, but I don’t think I’m totally off-base by postulating that there is a much higher percentage of golfers who are at least somewhat racist than, say, basketball players. If I had to play armchair psychologist, I’d guess that this stems in large part from the insular nature of golf. Due to the game’s rather prohibitive costs, you simply won’t find many of its players who aren’t white and financially well-off. And as soon as any group becomes homogenized and isolated, they tend to take a negative view of “outsiders.”

So maybe when you get down to it, it’s less about being racist than it is being against anyone who is not like them. In any case, I certainly don’t have the answers. But Golfweek could’ve used this latest controversy as an opportunity to start looking for them, and they blew it big time.