Regretful Remark Proves Silence Can Be Golden

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Tuesday, January 15, 2008; 1:16 PM

A long-time on-air reporter at a major American television network I've known for years likes to tell people there are two kinds of broadcasters -- those who already regret having said something really stupid on the air and those who know full well that sooner or later, they almost certainly will say something stupid on the air.

In live broadcasts on radio or television, it's almost inevitable. And sooner came two weeks ago for Kelly Tilghman, the pioneering woman who calls the play-by-play on PGA Tour tournaments for The Golf Channel, now starting her second season in that role as the tour's almost weekly voice.

During a seemingly light-hearted discussion during the second round of the season-opening Mercedes Championships in Hawaii, Tilghman and analyst Nick Faldo were talking about Tiger Woods' domination of the sport and how younger players might be able to catch up with his immense skills.

And then, out of the clear blue Hawaiian sky, it got ugly.

Faldo began by saying that players should "gang up" on Woods "for a while," to which Tilghman, in a brain-dead moment she'll no doubt regret the rest of her life, chimed in by saying the best way to stop Woods would be to "lynch him in a back alley."

I did not hear the exchange first hand, but my esteemed colleague, sports broadcasting critic Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. Times, wrote last week that "sadly, her remark made both her and Faldo giggle."

But this clearly was no laughing matter, as Tilghman surely must have known as soon as she got off the air. Tilghman considers Woods a friend and frequently communicates with him via text message and cell phone, and almost immediately, she contacted the player's agent, Mark Steinberg, and apologized. She also did the same in a conversation the next day with Woods, though strangely, she never mentioned the incident in the Saturday broadcast, waiting to apologize for the first time on the air on Sunday.

"This story is a non-issue," Steinberg said in a statement. "Tiger and Kelly are friends and Tiger has a great deal of respect for Kelly. Regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally that there was no ill intent in her comments. The story is a non-issue in our eyes. Case closed."

Not really.

Almost immediately her remark was first reported by Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, there was, as usual, the obligatory knee-jerk bluster from the Rev. Al Sharpton, demanding that Tilghman immediately be fired.

Funny how times change. Just 14 months ago, when former ESPN pro football analyst Michael Irvin said on ESPN Radio that Dallas quarterback Tony Romo's speed and athletic skills must have have been due to some African-American DNA in his system, perhaps from a great-great-great grandmother's long ago tryst with "slave brothers," not a peep was heard from Sharpton.

Incredibly, ESPN never suspended Irvin for his revolting remarks, but properly did not renew his contract at the end of the year, essentially firing him. Though the network never said so publicly, his ill-advised and yes, racist comments on Romo clearly were a major reason why.

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