COMMENTARY | The latest punch thrown in the Sergio Garcia-Tiger Woods feud was levied Tuesday night by the Spaniard at the European Tour's Players' Award dinner. And when the dust settled, it was Garcia who came out bloodied and rightfully so.
On stage along with his European Ryder Cup teammates, Garcia was asked by event co-host Steve Sands, tongue firmly in cheek, whether he would have Tiger Woods over during US Open week to break bread, making light of their recent public spat.
Garcia answered, "We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken."
The racial undertones of Garcia's comments do not need to be rehashed. The familiarity in the golfing community with the fried chicken barb goes back to the 1997 Masters when Fuzzy Zoeller made a similar comment about Woods, referencing the dinner menu the soon-to-be youngest Masters champion would serve the following year at the Champion's Dinner.
"He's doing everything it takes to win," Zoeller said when asked about Woods' play. "So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations, enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year."
The comment was shocking and off-putting in 1997 and following the backlash, Zoeller wasn't heard from much again, his reputation tarnished and legacy usurped by one off-handed comment.
16 years later, Garcia's comment comes with a similar, if not more surprising, sting. More surprising in the sense that we like to think with each passing day, racism is dying. More surprising in the sense that on a public level, personal prejudices shouldn't be levied through jokes. More surprising in the sense that someone as media-aware as Garcia would make such an off-color comment.
However, what we like to think is happening and what is actually taking place in the world are far different things. Garcia's comments prove that.
What's even more troubling is that for a racially charged comment to make its way into the public sphere, the likelihood is greater that Garcia has said or thought them in his private life, thus debunking any progress that is thought to have been made.
Garcia's public relations machine jumped into high gear following the comments, releasing an apology that read, "I apologize for any offence that may have been caused by my comment on stage during The European Tour Players' Awards dinner. I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark, but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner."
Woods, who is no stranger to racial injustice, responded with a string of tweets, not quite exonerating Garcia, but making his feelings known with an eye towards moving on.
Said Woods, "The comment that was made wasn't silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate. I'm confident that there is real regret that the remark was made. The Players (Championship) ended nearly two weeks ago and it's long past time to move on and talk about golf."
Garcia met with the media Wednesday morning, sheepishly taking the stand looking like a dog that had just soiled the carpet, apologizing profusely. He said he had talked with the commissioners of both the PGA and European Tours and felt as if they had accepted his apology.
He also said he plans to talk to Tiger directly to apologize for his comments, but calls to Woods' agent had not yet been returned.
The problem is that our culture is too quick to move on from the real problems that present themselves, especially taboo topics such as racism. The predominant thought is that racism has no place anywhere and from a PR standpoint, golf is the last business that wants to furl itself into a racial dispute given the game's poor track record in that arena.
More than likely, Woods will let the comments wash off his back; he has bigger fish to fry. If he were going to be impacted negatively by any ignoramus with a derogatory comment to make, he wouldn't be in search of his 15th major championship and on track to become the greatest player of all time. Likelier still, Woods will use Garcia's words as some kind of motivation, pushing him to even higher heights.
For those reason and many more, Garcia does not deserve a pass on this. He needs to be held accountable for his actions and words. What that entails is up to those in charge of the game, but to accept an apology and sweep the comments under the rug is to do a disservice to all those offended by the comments.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
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