Golfweek cover featuring noose raises ire of PGA Tour commissioner

Updated: January 17, 2008, 8:24 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Golfweek Magazine, as part of a package of stories on the controversy involving Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman's comment that players should "lynch [Tiger Woods] in a back alley," used the image of a noose on the cover of its Jan. 19 issue.

That decision has added fuel to a flap which has seen Tilghman suspended for two weeks from her anchoring duties. Woods' agent said he considers Tilghman's remark a "non-issue."

Golfweek is one of two major national golf news magazines. Golf World, which has an editorial relationship with ESPN.com, is the other.

"Was it an arresting image? Yes, it was," Golfweek editor Dave Seanor told USA Today. "We chose it because it was an image we thought would draw attention to an issue we thought deserved some intelligent dialogue."

"There was a great deal of debate over it," Seanor said of the magazine's in-house deliberations, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "But it was the news of the week, no question about it. That's what everybody in the game is talking about."

Seanor said he was overwhelmed by negative reaction to the photo while he was attending the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.

"We knew that image would grab attention, but I didn't anticipate the enormity of it,'' Seanor said. "There's been a huge, negative reaction. I've gotten so many e-mails. It's a little overwhelming.''

The Golfweek staff previously had scheduled a meeting with PGA Tour officials Thursday morning, and Seanor said the noose quickly became "item 1-A" on their agenda.

He said dozens of customers at the merchandise show stopped by the Golfweek stand and put an issue in their bag, with some stopping to discuss and complain.

"Most people who are objecting to it -- within the golf industry -- are saying this episode was just about over," Seanor said. "I think it's indicative of how, when you bring race and golf into the same sentence, everyone recoils."

In the magazine's news story noted sociologist Harry Edwards said the public should accept Tilghman's apology.

"If we stopped the train every time somebody made a dumb remark that is potentially offensive," he is quoted as saying, "we'd never progress as a society."

Golfweek cover
Golf WeeklyGolfweek's controversial cover for its Jan. 19 issue. The magazine has removed it from its Web site.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, in a statement, said: "Clearly, what Kelly said was inappropriate and unfortunate and she obviously regrets her choice of words. 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."

During Golf Channel's Jan. 4 telecast of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, Tilghman was in a conversation with analyst Nick Faldo about how PGA Tour players could stop Woods' dominance when she used the phrase about lynching. Golf Channel received few complaints at the time. Tilghman apologized personally to Woods and on the telecast two days later.

Asked if he regretted the cover, Seanor paused before answering.

"I wish we could have come up with something that made the same statement but didn't create as much negative reaction," he said. "But as this has unfolded, I'm glad there's dialogue. Let's talk about this, and the lack of diversity in golf."

He denied the cover was an attempt to sell more magazines, noting that Golfweek is 99 percent subscriptions.

"I was a little shocked by the commissioner's reaction," he said. "It was rather strong, particularly from someone who rarely comments on things on his own tour."

Seanor said he was struck by the paucity of black customers among the thousands of people at golf's largest merchandise exposition.

"Look at the executive suites at the PGA Tour, or the USGA, or the PGA of America. There are very, very few people of color there," he said. "This is a situation in golf where there needs to be more dialogue. And when you get more dialogue, people don't want to hear it, and they brush it under the rug. This is a source of a lot of pushback."

Seanor said he expected canceled subscriptions over the issue. He was not sure how it would affect advertising.

Rev. Al Sharpton, in an interview on CNN on Jan. 9, called for Tilghman to be fired. Later that night, Tilghman was suspended prior to the Sony Open in Hawaii. She is also missing this week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. She is scheduled to return for the Buick Invitational, which ironically is Woods' first scheduled appearance of the year on the PGA Tour.

In an editorial in the magazine, the editors wrote: "Like it or not, Tilghman's 'Lynch him in a back alley' remark about Tiger Woods was national news. The debate about the severity of her punishment -- at this writing a two-week suspension -- fueled heated debate on Web sites, in newspapers and on national TV. The furor begs rational analysis."

Prior to Tilghman's suspension,Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, said, "it is a complete non-issue. Kelly and Tiger are friends. It might have been a poor choice of words, but there was absolutely no ill intent whatsoever."

Tilghman issued her own statement, saying she "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."

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