Omega Dubai Desert Classic - Final RoundSergio 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

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.

Garcia’s reply:

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.

Comments (17)

  1. I’ll preface my comment by saying that I absolutely believe Garcia should have known better (and he probably did), he certainly should have realized exactly what sort of reaction that joke would provoke, and there really aren’t any reasonable grounds on which to defend what Garcia said.

    That being said, I have a lot of friends from other parts of the world who honestly have (or, had) no idea about the “black people like fried chicken” stereotype. They see fried chicken as “food that Americans like”, not “food that African-Americans like”. It’s important to keep context in mind when reacting to quotes like this, because if the person in question is not overly familiar with North American culture, there is a genuine chance that they have no idea what they are implying when they say something like that.

    THAT being said, Sergio Garcia is not one of those people, and “I made an overtly racist joke but I didn’t mean it in a racist manner” is a seriously shitty excuse for an apology.

    • Yeah, definitely. In addition to his age and generation, there’s also the fact that he’s well-traveled and presumably well-versed in these types of things. It might be a different article if his excuse was that he didn’t understand the African American stereotype. Even then, though, I’d have difficulty believing considering Zoeller’s previous comments.

      • Having frequent flier miles doesn’t mean that the traveler has paid any attention past the end of his nose. One would hope he’d have some awareness, but I’d estimate that professional athletes’ egocentrism gets in the way of that, on average.

    • Garcia is a professional golfer. I presume he has some familiarity with the sport, its figures, its history, etc. I don’t think that’s a huge leap to make. Are you seriously suggesting that there is any chance that he was unfamiliar with a HUGE controversy that happened about 15 minutes before he turned pro and involved (arguably) the best player ever?

  2. I love fried chicken… not that shitty shake-and-bake nonsense – i’m talking the bread crumbs and too-much-butter shit. Seriously, this story is making me hungry.

  3. Garcia always lives on the edge in his comments, imagine being on stage and asked a jestful question, he probably panicked while trying to think of some funny retort and blurted that out. Sometimes your brain freezes in those socially pressured situations.
    Besides, that’s like saying oriental people like noodles, or brown people like kababs, or white people like swiss chalet, i don’t see why it’s such a big deal.

  4. Should we be equally outraged if an English golfer made a joke about potatoes to an Irish golfer? Or is that different?
    I also wonder whether Garcia is an obvious racist because he is a white guy who talked about a black man and fried chicken in the same sentence. If Garcia mentioned watermelon and grape juice there would be no argument, but I don’t associate fried chicken alone as a food for slaves. If others associate fried chicken with black people then perhaps they are the racists. I think of fried chicken as a southern food and not a black slave food.
    When I walk into KFC I see people of many different races bonding over our mutual love of fried chicken. I think fried chicken can help us all overcome racism. Whites, Blacks, Asians – we all love fried chicken!
    With all this said, Garcia really should have shut the hell up because he should know whites don’t usually get the benefit of the doubt when they say something that can be construed as racist.
    I understand casual racism is still a problem, but I still really question the priorities of someone who is outraged over a comment like this. There are many, many, substantial systemic problems faced by blacks in the United States and I don’t think a potentially racist joke made against a billionaire professional golfer is near the top of that list.

    • It doesn’t matter if the stereotype has any grounding in reality. All that matters is if it’s being used in a demeaning way.

      • How can you tell it was used in a demeaning way? A white guy told a black guy he would serve him fried chicken. Was it demeaning simply because it was a white guy saying that to a black guy? Look, it seems very likely that Garcia was making a subconscious racist remark, but to say you know for sure that it was meant in a demeaning manner doesn’t check out with me. It looks bad, sure, but let’s not act like this is unassailable proof that Garcia is a racist.
        By the way, has anyone ever actually looked into whether Tiger Woods likes fried chicken? Maybe it’s well-known among tour players that fried chicken is Tiger Woods favorite food. In this case I would interpret Garcia invitation as an attempt at improving personal relations with Woods. Or, if we knew Tiger hates fried chicken, then we could reasonably assume Garcia is a racist prick.

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