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A little Consideration

Dermot Gilleece mulls over the recent race controversy hitting golf

Posted May 28, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece


In the aftermath of what proved to be highly controversial events surrounding last week’s BMW/PGA Championship at Wentworth, I found myself coming to a very disturbing conclusion:  my attitude to race is either totally wrong or seriously out of date.  The truth is that I viewed the words of Sergio Garcia and PGA European Tour chief executive, George O’Grady, far less seriously than the majority of my colleagues in the media appeared to do.

That is not to say that I condone racism in any form.  I find it utterly repugnant.  Still, I considered the reaction to Garcia’s jibe about fried chicken and Tiger Woods, and O’Grady’s reference to coloured athletes, to be way over the top.  As I’ve indicated, I’m prepared to accept that I may be totally wrong in this.  Either way, I will attempt to present my view.

Let us start with Garcia, who has a remarkable facility for rubbing people up the wrong way.  When we met in Hawaii a few years ago, I said to him directly: “Tell me, do you really enjoy being a pain in the neck to Americans during the Ryder Cup?"   A broad, mischievous smile indicated I had pressed the right button. "The Ryder Cup is always amazing, whatever the Americans may say about it," he replied, gently side-stepping the thrust of my question.  "It is all about competing and I love competition.  And it's about team-mates, all pulling together."

Later, on the morning after Padraig Harrington had captured the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, I remember asking him if he felt sorry for Garcia, whom he left in his wake, just as he had done in the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie.  Harrington’s reaction surprised me.  Not only did he have no sympathy for the Spaniard, he summarily dismissed the very notion of feeling sorry for him.

When Garcia has a gripe - which he tends to have on a regular basis - he seems incapable of picking words likely to elicit sympathy.  As a consequence, he has become known on tour as a whinger.

Now let us consider the position he found himself in when the Golf Channel’s Steve Sands engaged him in some gentle banter during the Tour’s celebration dinner on the Tuesday of Wentworth week.  Picking up on the recent public spat between Garcia and Woods during the Players Championship, Sands wanted to know if the Spaniard would have his rival around to his house during the forthcoming US Open at Merion.

If was the sort of remark which required a clever, humorous answer.  And Garcia was doing fine until he threw in “fried chicken”.   None of those critics who subsequently slammed him for this response, happened to consider that he was speaking in a second language. That his first language is Spanish.  And even the most accomplished linguist will tell you that the most difficult thing to do in a language other than your own, is to be humorous.  It requires thinking humour, which is a considerable stretch from simply speaking the tongue.

So, when clever, quick-wittedness was called for, Garcia was found wanting and, like many of us would do, he settled for the first thing that entered his mind.  And caused offence.

I thought of Garcia when the Northampton and England hooker, Dylan Hartley, lost the chance of going on the Lions tour because he verbally abused referee Wayne Barnes during the Premiership rugby final with Leicester.  An 11-week ban was a huge price to pay for ill-chosen words uttered on the spur of the moment.

Especially interesting, however, was the reaction of Lions coach, Warren Gatland, who publicly sympathised with Hartley over the incident.  Nobody should be more aware than Gatland that respect for match officials is fundamental to the playing of professional rugby, where physical contact is extreme and the line into ill-discipline is so easily crossed.  Yet the coach still had sympathy for a transgressor who, like Garcia, had considerable form in this area.  And I can fully understand that view.

I grew up in a predominantly white environment where problems regarding race were confined to reports in the media.  And where “coloureds” was not considered to be pejorative term.  Indeed it seemed to emanate mostly from South Africa to describe non-whites in that apartheid country.

In honesty, I never thought of it as a racist term, though I can see why it would have been preferable had O’Grady not used it.  As for Garcia:  his words were clearly ill-chosen, though I cannot believe that he deliberately intended to publicly offend Woods or diminish the African-American community.  My view would have been somewhat different, however, had the conversation taken place in Spanish.

Either way, I am being forced to learn aspects of race that had hitherto escaped me.   Which cannot be a bad thing.  Meanwhile, perhaps we could all benefit from a little more consideration for the feelings of others, including those in the wrong.

- Dermot Gilleece

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