Thankfully it only happens sporadically, but racism reared its ugly head in sports again this week.
It all started with the Sergio Garcia-Tiger Woods conflict, which began when the two were paired together during the third round of the Players Championship. The twosome accused each other of distracting actions during swings. After play concluded, Garcia made a remark during the interview that Tiger “is not the nicest man on tour.”
The media and rival competitors taking issue with the prickly personality of Tiger Woods is nothing new, and the spat between the two was actually considered in some ways good, because rivalries in golf are good for the sport. To me, Sergio v. Tiger just seemed like a tiff straight out of NASCAR world that would go away quickly.
That was until an event this week in advance of a European Tour event. The emcee jokingly asked Garcia if he would have Tiger Woods over for dinner during the United States Open. Garcia answered in the following way:
“We will have him around every night. We will serve fried chicken.”
With that charged comment, Sergio v. Tiger morphed from a golf controversy into a worldwide sociological fecal-storm. Woods later responded to Garcia’s comments on social media and Sergio would later back off and apologize.
But, as always, good luck trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
And then, in bizarre fashion, a European Tour suit actually compounded the situation in making a statement in a TV inteview proclaiming that “many of Sergio’s best friends are colored athletes.”
In defense of the European Tour CEO, it is possible that the word “colored” doesn’t touch nerves in the way it does in America. But the fact of the matter is that the European Tour public relations staff should have realized they were reaching a global audience including Americans, African-Americans and other minorities.
For long-time followers of golf and Tiger Woods, you know that this isn’t the first time Tiger has been associated with fried chicken. After Woods’ historic lopsided win at the 1997 Masters, veteran Fuzzy Zoeller infamously made a quip about Tiger serving fried chicken and collard greens at the following year’s Champions dinner.
When contacted in the aftermath of this weeks events, Zoeller suggested that the current controversy will ultimately blow over for Garcia. And it probably will, at least until the next similar incident occurs years down the road. In 1997, Fuzzy Zoeller paid an enormous price, as his primary sponsor bailed on him within days.
Sergio Garcia meanwhile, has a very lucrative apparel contract with Adidas, among other sponsors. You can bet there are some serious conversations happening at Adidas headquarters on whether Sergio has to go. It is a very real possibility that the three stripes might be yanked off Garcia’s gear in the near future. Not to mention the obvious distractions that Garcia is now going to have to fight through on the course, not unlike what Tiger Woods endured in the aftermath of what went down in his personal life.
And in that sense, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia now do have something to bond over.
That was not the only ugly racially charged incident in the sports world in the past few days.
Halfway around the world, there’s this thing called Australian Rules Football. Early Friday morning (U.S. time), the Sydney Swans scored a relatively easy victory over Collingwood in a game I actually caught part of before heading off to work.
I then turned the TV on late Friday night to catch the pre-game of the AFL’s Saturday afternoon match. The lead story was something that occurred late in that previous night’s game that resulted in a youth being escorted from one of the front rows of the stadium. It turned out that a 13-year old female fan had allegedly called Swans player Adam Goodes an ‘ape’.
Watching the games in breathtaking HD and not really knowing much about the participants, Goodes personally strikes me as someone with some impressive facial hair.
It also turns out that Goodes’ ethnicity is what would be known in Australia as being “aboriginal.” Think along the same lines as a Native American in the States or Canada. Indigenous people in Australia have long suffered scorn and face many social and economic challenges.
Goodes was visibly not happy. He left the field immediately after the game, then came back to join his team in singing the club fight song, where he was reportedly sobbing. The next morning Goodes held a press conference expressing his continued anger, in part because the name he was called was from a 13-year old girl.
Reading the Facebook comments on the incident from Australia’s Channel Nine, there were many who suggested that Goodes is in need of some thicker skin. Many seemed to believe that by making a lot of money playing footy, having to deal with inappropriate comments from spectators is simply part of the territory.
Personally, I disagree, and this is from someone who had to deal with bullying and ridicule a lot growing up. I don’t care if Adam Goodes is the highest paid sportsman in Australia, no person in any profession, should have to deal with that. I laud Goodes for taking a stand.
Ironically the episode occurred as the Australian AFL had designated Round Nine (Week 9) of the 22-week regular season as the “Indigenous Round.” The league is celebrating the heritage of Australia’s “First People” on many levels, including painting the center circle in the Indigenous colors of red, black, and gold.
As an American who wasn’t aware of the Australian Indigenous plight until Cathy Freeman’s exploits at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I have total respect for a culture that continues to struggle to gain full respect in their own country.
The good news is that the child has reached out to Goodes with an apology. Hopefully the kid learns from this and is ultimately forgiven, and that Mr. Goodes chills out as well. But the sad truth is that athletes in virtually all sports have to deal with unacceptable fan behavior – not just in the stands, but also with social media, mainstream media, and even their fellow competitors.
The Sergio Garcia/Tiger Woods debacle and the Australian Football situation are just two examples on how the struggle continues on a global scale.