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OPINION
Edited by Richard O'Brien and Hank Hersch
May 05, 1997
The Fuss over Fuzzy
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May 05, 1997

Opinion

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The Fuss over Fuzzy

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for New York's Daily News, comments on the Fuzzy Zoeller- Tiger Woods controversy.

The public fury that followed Zoeller's remarks about Woods was wildly disproportionate to the offense. But such is the state of race relations in the U.S. that many blacks easily assumed the worst about Zoeller. And a news media stung by issues of race then turned Zoeller's lame attempt at humor into what it never was: yet another example of racism in America.

Zoeller is golf's reigning jokester, and his remark about fried chicken and collard greens was a smart-alecky take on what Woods might serve at the champions' dinner next year. He was being silly, but I don't believe he was being malevolent. Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, two veteran black golfers who know a thing or two about racism on the links, were not perturbed. Nor apparently was another black golfer, Victor McBryde, who on Monday at a course in Greenville, S.C., joked with Zoeller about fried chicken, corn bread and even watermelon. Said McBryde later, "People shouldn't take it so serious."

But just about everyone else did, including the Kmart executives who dumped Zoeller as a spokesman. Many blacks overreacted to Zoeller's reference to Woods as "little boy," recalling "boy" as the traditional racist put-down of even mature black men. They did not consider that the 45-year-old Zoeller's assessment of the 21-year-old Woods might have reflected a gap more generational than racial. This was the same Zoeller, after all, who a month ago referred to his alcoholic white friend John Daly, age 31, as "a sick little boy."

What Zoeller said was tame compared with remarks I've heard in newsrooms and in my living room—or read in April's GQ, in which Woods himself was depicted as a purveyor of jokes about lesbians and about black male sexuality.

I look forward to a day when race is no longer the prism through which we view each other. Then the reaction to a Fuzzy Zoeller won't be a national debate, but a chuckle. Or, if the joke is bad, a groan.

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