Kelly Tilghman, the Golf Channel anchor who during Friday's broadcast from the Mercedes-Benz Championship said while discussing Tiger Woods' dominance that young players on the PGA Tour should "lynch him in a back alley," was suspended two weeks Wednesday for the remark.
The move came after a wave of outrage that included a call for her to be fired by civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and despite a statement from the Woods camp saying, "It is a complete non-issue."
Sharpton said the fact Woods did not call for punishment of Tilghman does not mean the comment was not offensive to African-Americans.
"That's the same thing Don Imus said," Sharpton said on CNN Headline News Wednesday, referring to the radio shock-jock's racially offensive comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. "[He said] 'I want to talk to the Rutgers girls' and not talk about the insult he said on all blacks."
Sharpton said the issue of hanging strikes a raw nerve among African-Americans.
"If I got on this show and said I wanted to put some Jewish-American in a gas chamber, I don't care what context I said it in, the entire Jewish community would have the right to say I should be put off this show or my radio show if I said it there," Sharpton told CNN. "Or if I said I wanted to see a woman raped. This is an insult to all blacks. Lynching is not murder in general; it is not assault in general. It is a specific racial term."
The Golf Channel, which originally said there would be no punishment, changed its position less than three hours after Sharpton's remarks with a statement issued Wednesday night:
"The Golf Channel regrets the poorly chosen remarks made by Kelly Tilghman on a recent broadcast and, again, extends our apologies to anyone who was offended. There is simply no place on our network for offensive language like this. While we believe that Kelly's choice of words was inadvertent and that she did not intend them in an offensive manner, the words were hurtful and grossly inappropriate. Consequently, we have decided to suspend Kelly for two weeks, effective immediately."
According to Alabama's Tuskegee University, 3,466 African-Americans were lynched in the United States from 1882-1968. In 2005, The U.S. Senate officially apologized for failing to act on more than 200 anti-lynching bills introduced over the years.
The use of a hangman's noose as a racist symbol has resurfaced recently, most notably in the 2006 case of the Jena Six when six black high school students in Louisiana were charged with beating a white student after nooses had been left in a tree under which the black students had asked school permission to sit.
A story on its Web site posted before the suspension was announced said the Golf Channel "regrets the unfortunate choice of words that Kelly Tilghman used during a recent broadcast and we wish to apologize to anyone who was offended by her remarks. We take this matter very seriously. Kelly has apologized privately to Tiger and publicly on the air."
In her statement, Tilghman said, "On Friday during our golf broadcast, Nick Faldo and I were discussing Tiger's dominance in the golf world and I used some poorly chosen words. I have known Tiger for 12 years and I have apologized directly to him. I also apologize to our viewers who may have been offended by my comments."
Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg of IMG, released a statement saying, "This story is a non-issue. Tiger and Kelly are friends and Tiger has a great deal of respect for Kelly. Regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally that there was no ill intent in her comments. This story is a non-issue in our eyes."
According to The Associated Press, Woods and Tilghman have known each other 12 years. She was
picked to host a club demonstration with Woods in south Florida
when he talked about new products from Nike Golf.
The comments by Tilghman flew under the radar all weekend, even after she apologized on-air during Sunday's broadcast. Newsday, a suburban New York newspaper, reported Tilghman's apology on Monday.
"I'm sure Kelly wishes she never said that," Jim Furyk said, according to The Associated Press. "I haven't spoken with Tiger, but I've been told that they've had
their talk and they've discussed it. Anything I say is kind of just
like pouring salt in the wound at this point. Obviously, she would
love to not have said that and for it not to be news. I'm glad that
her and Tiger spoke."
Fred Funk only heard about the comment Wednesday morning at the Sony Open.
"There was no ill intent at all," Funk said, according to The Associated Press. "I think it was
just a slip, and they said that Tiger has already forgiven her. I
think when you're in the TV tower for that many hours, you're going
to wish you didn't say some things probably, and that was one thing
that slipped out. I think you've got to give them a little grace."
Tilghman, one of the most-popular on-air personalities at Golf Channel, (last year was the first of a 15-year deal by the Golf Channel to broadcast PGA Tour events) became the first female to anchor a professional golf broadcast, and one of the few to hold such a prominent position in all of sports.
The former player for the Duke University golf team competed professionally from 1992-96 before joining the Golf Channel. She will return to the air Jan. 25 at the Buick Invitational, which will be Woods' first tournament of the 2008 season.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.