Sergio Garcia would like to remind us that racism still exists. Unfortunately, his method for doing so was not a public service announcement, but a joke aimed at Tiger Woods that referred to fried chicken. There are two things that are awful about this: 1) The public reinforcement of an incredibly demeaning stereotype that the majority of us would love to do away with; and 2) His attempt at irreverence wasn’t even remotely funny.
It all started two weeks ago during the Third Round at The Players Championship at Sawgrass. Tiger Woods decided to take a wood out of his bag – signifying to the crowd that he was going for the green on the par-five second hole – just as Sergio Garcia was taking his swing. The crowd cheered Woods’s decision, causing Garcia to slice his shot.
During a rain delay, Garcia vented some of his frustration while speaking with the Golf Channel:
Well, obviously Tiger was on the left and it was my turn to hit. He moved all the crowd that he needed to move, I waited for that. You do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit and right as I was in the top of the back-swing, he must have pulled a wood and everybody started screaming. So that didn’t help very much.
… and so it began.
Woods called Garcia a whiner, and when asked if he intended to apologize for the remark. He simply said, “No.”
Then, Garcia, presumably after memorizing lines from his favorite chapter of Sinbad’s Big Bad Book Of Snaps, told ESPN.com:
He called me a whiner. That’s probably right. It’s also probably the first thing he’s told you guys that’s true in 15 years. I know what he is like. You guys are finding out. He can and will beat me a lot of times but he is not going to step on me. I’m not afraid of him.
At first, it was fun to follow along with someone else’s minor drama. It was reminiscent of listening to your nana complain about the people in her neighborhood – an obvious overreaction, but whatever, it gave you a topic of conversation that wasn’t based in the death of her friends or the weather.
Unfortunately, Garcia had to ruin it all. On stage at the European Tour’s awards dinner, Garcia fielded a question in jest from the Golf Channel’s Steve Sands. The Spanish golfer was asked when he would have the American over for dinner.
We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken.
The comparisons to these comments from Fuzzy Zoeller have been both rife and apt:
Garcia was quick to go on the defensive, issuing a statement shortly after his remark.
I apologise for any offence that may have been caused by my comment on stage during The European Tour Players’ Awards dinner. I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark, but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner.
Make no mistake at all, it was a racist comment.
It doesn’t matter if it was overt racism or inherent racism that caused him to reinforce a negative stereotype based on race from both a literal and figurative stage, it’s still racism. Unlike Zoeller, Garcia doesn’t have the excuse – not a justification – of being from a past generation where jokes uttered by the powerful majority about stereotypes belonging to the discriminated minority weren’t considered to be as hurtful. Again, that’s not a defense for Zoeller’s comments from sixteen years ago, it’s understanding the source and therefore context of what he said.
Garcia is a 33-year-old man. He’s not from a distant generation where racism was tolerated. His comment was resolutely stupid – the type that would cause a dinner party between friends to break up, and those friendships to be questioned.
For those defending Garcia today, it’s not the same thing as if Woods was to make a crack about serving paella. While it wouldn’t have been advisable or very funny, such comments wouldn’t have carried the same weight. There’s a history of discrimination through stereotypes associated with the ethnic background of Woods that don’t exist for the Spaniard. We might not expect Garcia to fully understand that history, but we can definitely expect him to understand the difference between playful comments and hurtful ones.