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Visual Rhetoric and the Challenge of Critique

January 18, 2008

I wanted to pause from my busy day and meditate on some recent race-related furor in the golf world. In case you missed it, a few weeks ago during its coverage of the ever-exciting Mercedes Benz Championship, The Golf Channel commentators Nick Faldo and Kelly Tilghman were killing time, casually lamenting the dominance Tiger Woods has exerted over the rest of the PGA field in the last fifteen years.

While on the air, Faldo suggested that other professional golfers should gang up on Woods. To this Tilghman added with laughter, “take him in a back alley and lynch him.” What? Even now, in the post-Imus era and the post-Fuzzy Zoeller era inappropriate comments like this leak out. These comments, no doubt, suggest that our society still does not take seriously the centuries of exploitation and hatred wreaked on a single race of people in America.

The issue ilicited a few AP-wire news stories, but not much else. Kelly Kilghman was suspended for two weeks by the Golf Channel, a slap on the wrist. But other than that, not much else that resembled some sort of critique took place until Golfweek published a cover designed to indict the Golf Channel for its negligence in this situation.

This image released by Golfweek magazine shows the cover of the Jan. 19, 2008 issue.  Dave Seanor, vice president and editor of the weekly magazine, said he was overwhelmed by negative reaction to the photo of a noose on the cover of this week's issue, illustrating a story about the suspension of Golf Channel anchor, Kelly Tilghman , for using the word 'lynch' in an on-air discussion about how to beat Tiger Woods. (AP Photo/Golfweek)

Amazingly, the image stirred a greater outrage than Kilghman’s comments, so much so that Golfweek has apologized profusely. According to recent news story, PGA tour commissioner Tim Finchem dismissed the magazine cover as irresponsible sensationalism: “Clearly, what Kelly said was inappropriate and unfortunate, and she obviously regrets her choice of words,” Finchem said. “But we consider Golfweek’s imagery of a swinging noose on its cover to be outrageous and irresponsible. It smacks of tabloid journalism. It was a naked attempt to inflame and keep alive an incident that was heading to an appropriate conclusion.”

Why does the governing body of professional golf want to shirk the issue of race? Probably because a critical examination of how the sport has handled it in the past doesn’t bode well for public relations.

Am I crazy, or is this entire incident a blatant example of racism in professional sports and the media that covers it?

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From → News, Sports

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