Saturday, January 19, 2008

Not A Cinderella Story

I don’t normally write about sports but I thought this really goes outside the arena of athletes and goes into the heart of journalism.

As a few might have heard, Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman was suspended for jokingly saying that Tiger Woods’ opponents should lynch the golf star in a back alley if they hoped to beat him on the green. Obviously, it got a lot of backlash and understandably so. Was there hate in her comment? No but it was a foolish joke and she was dealt with properly.

However, Vice President and Editor of Golfweek Dave Seanor was not. Apparently, he and the golf magazine’s editorial staff thought it would be a good idea to do a feature article about Tilghman’s poor choice of words and used a picture of a swinging noose as the cover art to highlight the feature.

And that is when the problems really started. According to, Jack Peter, an official with the PGA Tour, considered to pull $50,000 worth of advertising, even though a spokesman for the tour said that Peter did not speak for the organization and that advertising was not threatened to be pulled, according to the Associated Press.

With that hanging over the publication’s head and with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem calling the choice of cover art “outrageous and irresponsible” and tabloid journalism, Golfweek apparently felt it had to take action and fired Seanor yesterday. And shame on Golfweek for breaking down and firing Seanor for doing his job.

But instead of standing behind Seanor for his editorial decision to run the image, Golfweek thought it had to show “responsibility” for this situation and to probably counter potential future attacks from certain civil rights leaders and others. Because the Rev. Al Sharpton demanded that Tilghman be fired, but the Golf Channel had the wisdom to just suspend her for two weeks.

Now as a former professional layout editor for newspapers and magazines, I can see why Seanor decided to use a swinging noose because of its powerful image and it would certainly draw in readers to the feature and columns about the cover story. And I can only imagine it was not a decision taken lightly. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination that the editorial board, and certainly Terry Olson, the vice president and publisher of Golfweek, had a say in this and agreed that the picture should appear on the cover.

As a society, we have become too sensitive to certain issues and that sensitivity has created an extreme that is costing people their careers. Instead of creating dialogue and talking about an issue, too many people would rather have someone fired and then sweep the topic under a dusty old rug to be forgotten.

Dave Seanor should not have been fired for that cover art. Granted, an apology to those who found the controversial image offensive was correctly given out. But to fire someone who was just doing his job as a journalist is crossing the line.

And this is Golfweek we are talking about. Sure, any intelligent person can say it was a stupid call to approve an image of a swinging noose. But this is a publication about golf and golf-related stories. This isn’t a magazine by Richard Barrett, the founder of the white supremacist group the Nationalist Movement, who would have probably had Tiger Woods’ face around that noose. If that was the case, then I’ll be the first in line to attack Barrett as I have before.

This bloodlust of firing someone because it may hurt a company’s wallet or to appease the crowds that are calling for heads to roll has to stop. Instead, let’s have a real discussion about the issue at hand.

The great Martin Luther King Jr. once said that he had a dream that his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I doubt that he would agree with the cover art but I would sincerely doubt he would call for Seanor’s firing. I would like to think that the civil rights leader would rather talk about the situation then to jump to extremes.

So let’s take that important leaf from King’s book and use it wisely. Because the extreme actions that are being taken are not solving any problems.