Zero Tolerance On The Air

By Ed Sherman
Updated: January 12, 2008

CHICAGO — The line lasted perhaps a second.

“Lynch him in a back alley,” Kelly Tilghman said last Friday, responding to partner Nick Faldo’s banter that the young players should “gang up” on Tiger Woods.

That’s all it took for the Golf Channel anchor to join Don Imus, Ben Wright, Fuzzy Zoeller, Steve Lyons, Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder and others in the Hall of Shame for insensitive comments.

Tilghman paid the price Wednesday when the Golf Channel suspended her for two weeks, effective immediately. Instead of working this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, she is fretting about the state of her career, not to mention her reputation.

Talk about blowing a trip to paradise.

Tilghman’s comment was incredibly stupid. If she said “beat him up” or “punch him out,” nobody besides followers of the Golf Channel would know her name today. After all, Faldo said “gang up,” and he’s working this weekend.

But Tilghman said “lynch,” and the rest is infamy.

Trying to defend her puts any person (namely me) at risk of being insensitive to a reference that many people, not just African-Americans, find offensive. But there are a few things that need to be pointed out.

First, she and Woods are friends. When Nike recently did an equipment demonstration featuring Woods, Tilghman served as the host.

Tilghman, like the rest of the Golf Channel personalities, bows to the altar of Woods. It’s hard to imagine what the network would be like if he didn’t exist. The last thing Tilghman wanted to do was offend Woods.

As a friend should, Woods came to her defense, issuing a statement through his agent, Mark Steinberg: “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. Case closed.”

If only that were the case, Tilghman wishes.

It didn’t take long for political activist Al Sharpton, sensing an opening, to jump on the attack. Interestingly, the Sharpton camp didn’t appear to know much about Tilghman.

The headline in his news release said: “Reverend Al Sharpton calls for Golf Channel broadcaster Kelly Tilghman to be fired or he will pickett (sic) the Golf Channel for employing him.”

Not only was there poor spelling, but somebody didn’t realize Tilghman clearly is female. Gender would seem to be an important point. The blunder calls into question Sharpton’s agenda.

Sharpton used CNN’s platform to blast Tilghman. It didn’t matter to him that Woods had exonerated Tilghman. He went on to compare her to Imus.

That’s absolutely absurd. Imus has made millions making offensive statements. Tilghman is an anchor for golf tournaments who mostly says, “Now over to Vijay Singh’s putt at 13.”

Nevertheless, Tilghman crossed the line of good taste, and the Golf Channel since has received more publicity from it than from anything else in its history. Tilghman’s bosses were said to be considering suspending her before Sharpton went on his crusade.

The incident likely will cost Tilghman her job as the Golf Channel’s main host. She already has been sharply criticized for not being up to standards for such a critical role. Now, after this, look for the network to eventually make a change.

Make no mistake, Tilghman is paying a high price. She has to be in agony every time she is mentioned in the same sentence as Imus.

Other broadcasters surely are paying close attention to what happened to Tilghman. There is a lesson to be learned here.

In our politically correct world, anybody who goes on the air has to watch every word carefully. You can’t slip up, not even once.

How long does it take to foul up a career? As Tilghman found out, perhaps a second.