HONOLULU (AP) — Golf Channel suspended anchor Kelly Tilghman for two weeks on Wednesday for saying last week that young players who wanted to challenge Tiger Woods should “lynch him in a back alley.”
Tilghman was laughing during the exchange Friday with analyst Nick Faldo at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and Woods’ agent at IMG said he didn’t think there was any ill intent.
But the comments became prevalent on news shows Wednesday, and the Rev. Al Sharpton joined the fray by demanding she be fired immediately. Golf Channel didn’t know who would replace Tilghman in the booth this week at the Sony Open or next week at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
“There is simply no place on our network for offensive language like this,” Golf Channel said in a statement.
Tilghman became golf’s first female anchor last year when the PGA Tour signed a 15-year deal in which Golf Channel broadcasts the first three events of the year, weekday coverage of all tour events, and full coverage of the Fall Series and opposite-field events.
The suspension ends in time for the Buick Invitational on Jan. 24, when Woods will make his 2008 debut.
Faldo and Tilghman were discussing young players who could challenge the world’s No. 1 player toward the end of Friday’s broadcast at Kapalua when Faldo suggested that “to take Tiger on, maybe they should just gang up for a while.”
“Lynch him in a back alley,” Tilghman replied.
“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,” Golf Channel said in its statement. “Consequently, we have decided to suspend Kelly for two weeks, effective immediately.”
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.
Tilghman was helped when Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent at IMG, said it was a non-issue and considered the matter “case closed.”
“Tiger and Kelly are friends, and Tiger has a great deal of respect for Kelly,” Steinberg said Tuesday night in a statement released by Golf Channel. “Regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally that there was no ill-intent in her comments.”
Tilghman had said in a previous statement she apologized directly to Woods, and the immediate support from Woods’ camp was critical.
After Woods won the 1997 Masters at age 21 to become its youngest champion, Fuzzy Zoeller referred to him as “that little boy,” and suggested that Woods not serve fried chicken or collard greens, “or whatever the hell they serve,” at the Champions Dinner.
Woods, who had a different management team in his first full season, did not respond for three days to Zoeller’s apology, and it took Zoeller years to recover from the fallout.
Tilghman’s comment made the rounds Wednesday on TV shows such as CNN’s Headline News, and it was prominently discussed on blogs and message boards on the Internet. It also was a topic on the practice range at the Sony Open.
“I’m sure Kelly wishes she never said that,” Jim Furyk said. “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.
“There was no ill intent at all,” he said. “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.
“Her integrity, how Kelly is respected out here, is pretty good. I think Tiger really likes Kelly, so that helped squash it. Because Tiger could have run off with that if he took it the wrong way. But he didn’t, so that was good.”
Before her suspension was announced, Sharpton spoke earlier on CNN’s “Prime News” and continued to push for her firing, saying he wanted to meet with Golf Channel because the comments were “an insult to all blacks.”
“Lynching is not murder in general, it’s not assault in general,” Sharpton said. “It’s a specific racial term that this women should be held accountable for. What she said is racist. Whether she’s a racist … is immaterial. She’s a broadcaster. The channel has to be accountable to the public.”