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Comment bad, magazine's cover worse

Posted by Greg Johnson | The Grand Rapids Press January 20, 2008 14:23PM
Categories: Golf

Golfweek cover with noose

It's a shame that now-fired Golfweek magazine editor Dave Seanor didn't talk with an expert on racist imagery like David Pilgrim of Rockford before he approved the now infamous cover featuring a noose.

The cover was part of a response by the magazine to a remark made on the air by Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman on Jan. 4 during the Sony Open. She suggested that one way for young golfers to stop Tiger Woods is to "lynch him in back alley."

After seeing the clip on film, it was clear Tilghman was attempting to be humorous. It was a horrible whiff, ill-timed, insensitive and clearly a huge mistake. I wondered if she had endangered her job. She was later suspended by the Golf Channel, and will return later this month.

The along comes this cover with a headline: "Caught in a Noose: Tilghman slips up, and Golf Channel can't wriggle free."

It made Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, very upset. He called the imagery outrageous and irresponsible, and said "it was a naked attempt to inflame and keep alive an incident that was heading to an appropriate conclusion."

The magazine, which has a circulation of 160,000, mostly by subscription, reportedly has fired Seanor, the editor who approved the cover. He has been replaced by Jeff Babineau, a golf writer who has worked for the 32-year-old magazine the last nine years.

I know Seanor from a few meetings over the years. He previously has worked for publications in Lansing and Detroit. I often visit with him each year at events such as the Masters and U.S. Open. It stunned and baffled me that he would approve such a cover.

I feel for the person who made a life-altering mistake, but can't get my brain around that cover he approved.

Last summer, during a Fourth of July party at a nearby lake, my family noticed a boat with a swastika on display. It was sickening, the same feeling I had when I saw that cover. Apparently Seanor didn't have a sick feeling when this cover was discussed and that saddens me.

Woods had called Tilghman's remarks as a non-issue. That's fine. That's his opinion, and he was the initial subject.

It was an issue, however. It was on the air. But people had discussed it, and golf had it's diversity balance questioned once again. Fair enough.

It did not need to be swept under the rug, but it didn't need a noose either.

Seanor said the cover wasn't an attempt to be racially provocative, but to demonstrate the story that had provoked much comment.

Instead, it was exploitive, ill-advised and showed horrible judgment. What were the people around Seanor thinking and what was he thinking?

They needed to talk to somebody like Pilgrim, who is the chief diversity officer at Ferris State University and the curator of the Jim Crow Museum. Pilgrim is going to put the magazine cover in the Big Rapids museum as one of thousands of examples the noose being used for imagery.

"That is one of the images that will offend everyone -- liberals, conservatives, people of all races -- and offend them for different reasons," Pilgrim said. "Other than a white supremacist, I can't think of anyone that would not find it offensive."

Pilgrim said United States historians have determined that two African-Americans each week were being lynched in the year 1900.

"And those are just the ones known," he said. "It was a sad and terrible period in American history. It's a period people don't want to talk about.

"The noose is definitely a symbol of racial intimidation. I don't think there are many people, no matter what racial background, who do not in some way associate the noose and intimidation of African-Americans."

Pilgrim, a non-golfer who watches the sport on TV, said Tilghman's words struck him as a racially insensitive mistake.

"That might be an example of you not having to be a racist to say something racially insensitive," he said.

Then came the cover.

"I can understand trying to create discussion of diversity issues in golf, or even help people understand mistakes made in the past," Pilgrim said. "I can applaud that idea.

"But using the image of a noose, even an empty noose is an image so powerful and so latent with meanings for people, I don't think it's possible to get past it to discuss anything."

E-mail Greg Johnson: [email protected]