Golf

Garcia might get off easy for remark

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia issues public apologies Wednesday for his 'fried chicken' remark.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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You have to believe Sergio Garcia when he says he felt sick to his stomach about making what was an unmistakably racist jibe at Tiger Woods.

Who wouldn’t feel sick at the thought of their private jet — fueled not by earnings on the golf course, but by adidas sponsorship money — flying away without them? Athletes have a way of issuing the deepest of apologies when their lavish lifestyle comes under threat.

By putting the words "Tiger Woods" and "fried chicken" in the same sentence, Garcia should’ve cooked his own goose.

After their long-standing feud went public — and viral — at The Players championship, Garcia was asked at the European Tour Player Awards gala on Tuesday night if he would invite Woods to dinner during the US Open.

“We will have him around every night,” he said, “And we will serve fried chicken.”

It’s fine to have a dig at Woods, but as the petulant Spaniard would soon discover, it’s not acceptable to racially denigrate him.

The public relations department of the European Tour quickly issued a statement on Garcia’s behalf late on Tuesday noting he’d regretted a “silly remark” that he denied was racist in construct.

Woods responded just as swiftly through Twitter that the remark “wasn’t silly.”

“It was wrong, hurtful and inappropriate,” Woods wrote.

At a hastily convened press conference on Wednesday, Garcia apologized again. Curiously, he apologized first to his Ryder Cup teammates who were being feted at the dinner before he got to an apology to Woods. He again denied there was any racist intent.

“No, not at all,” he said.

Those who have defended Garcia say that a Spaniard maybe didn’t know the cultural implications of “fried chicken” in the United States. But that ignores the fact Garcia’s been playing in the US since he was a teenager. He’s now 33.

Are we to seriously believe he just randomly decided to throw out “fried chicken” when asked if he’d invite Woods to dinner?

Some may argue whether “fried chicken” amounts to a racist remark. But surely the answer to that is: Only if you meant it racially.

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I wonder what other adidas athletes think?

Would you say to Robert Griffin III that you’ll make sure you have fried chicken if he comes to dinner? What about Tim Duncan? Derrick Rose? Dwight Howard?

On Wednesday morning, I asked a few of these uncomfortable questions to the people at TaylorMade-adidas Golf, who gambled on Garcia being the next Tiger years ago and — despite the lack of trophies — continue to pay him accordingly.

“Sergio Garcia’s recent comment was offensive and in no way aligns with TaylorMade-adidas Golf’s values and corporate culture,” the company said in a statement. “We have spoken with Sergio directly, and he clearly has regret for his statement and we believe he is sincere.

“We discussed with Sergio that his comments are clearly out of bounds, and we are continuing to review the matter.”

Continuing to review the matter.

What exactly does that mean?

Will Garcia be hauled before a human resources panel, like any employee who makes an insensitive joke? Is his contract under threat?

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I was told by a spokesman that there wouldn’t be any further explanation of the statement.

What we do know is that the story didn’t end well for the last golfer to try to serve Tiger Woods fried chicken.

When Woods was on his way to changing everything in the 1997 Masters, Fuzzy Zoeller, a jovial former Masters champion from southern Indiana, was approached by a television crew for a reaction.

“That little boy is driving well, and he's putting well,” he said. “He's doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year.

“Got it? ... Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”

Woods let Zoeller twist in the wind for a few days before accepting his apology, but by then the damage had been done. Zoeller’s sponsors deserted him.

Garcia’s comment wasn’t as long or egregious, but it carries the same stain. Yet, it seems he might skate.

It beggars belief that neither the PGA nor European tours — bodies that have no problem fining a player for wearing shorts to the course or throwing a club or swearing — are not going to take any action against Garcia.

“They were both fine with it,” Garcia said with a shrug on Wednesday. “They felt very strong about it.”

Sadly, not nearly strongly enough.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Fuzzy Zoeller

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