The following comment should shock you. It should sadden you. And at the risk of imploring you on how to feel, it should anger the hell out of you.
At a season-ending banquet to honor and roast the world’s most elite caddies on Friday night, Steve Williams addressed his celebratory remarks in the wake of Adam Scott’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August, just weeks after being fired by longtime boss Tiger Woods, thusly: “My aim was to shove it right up that black --------.”
Yes, you read that correctly.
While it would already create major international headlines with Williams referring to Woods as part of the biological posterior, the fact that he referred to his mixed heritage makes it so far out of bounds that the white stakes aren’t even visible – no pun intended.
The ironic thing about racism is that it often isn’t black and white. What is considered racist by one person may simply be construed as vulgar or childish by another. What is considered vulgar or childish by someone else may be cast aside as benign elsewhere.
We can all agree, however, that anytime a derogatory comment about a fellow human being is equipped with a racial adjective, that comment becomes more than just slightly tinged with racism. It becomes completely inflammatory.
Not that he meant it that way, of course. From what we’ve heard, Williams’ comment was supposed to be off the record and at least one witness maintains that the malicious intent of such a statement in print doesn’t equal the aloofness when it was spoken.
Williams has already produced the usual cacophony of excuses, admissions and apologies for the comment. Via his personal website, he said, 'I apologize for comments I made last night at the Annual Caddy Awards dinner in Shanghai. Players and caddies look forward to this evening all year and the spirit is always joking and fun. I now realize how my comments could be construed as racist. However I assure you that was not my intent. I sincerely apologize to Tiger and anyone else I have offended.'
It shouldn’t matter, though. As a public figure, it can be reasoned that Williams should know better than to stoke the flames of such a subject, even in confidence. This was beyond crude and boorish locker room jocularity. If a person makes such a reference in front of 1,000 others, 100 others or just one other, it’s too many.
Though Woods has yet to react to the story, his agent Mark Steinberg called the comment “regrettable.”
I don’t think Steve Williams is racist. My guess is that he couldn’t have worked so interpersonally with a boss of mixed heritage for so many years if he was. This was a relationship that subsisted not only on the course, but in other dynamics, as well. Woods served as best man in his caddie’s wedding. They went on vacations together. They were great friends.
Racist, no. First-class lout, yes.
This is a man who for years was known as the muscle for his ever-emerging superstar boss. He chided children for moving in backswings and heaved shuttering cameras into water hazards. He would stop at no boundary to ensure Woods’ protection.
Through the dozen years they worked together, Williams was often criticized for failing to talk to the press, but perhaps we’re now finding out why. Three years ago, he said of Woods’ rival Phil Mickelson, 'I wouldn't call Mickelson a great player, 'cause I hate the [expletive],' according to The Guardian newspaper of Britain. When pressed for explanation the following day, he hardly retreated, contending, 'I don't particularly like the guy. He pays me no respect at all and hence I don't pay him any respect. It's no secret we don't get along, either.'
Just three months ago, Williams punctuated a victory with Adam Scott by telling the world, “This is the best win of my career.” It was a boneheaded move by a man with the public relations savvy of an Enron executive.
In coming days, I expect this news to spark a healthy debate within not only golf’s inner circles but societies around the world as to whether Williams’ comment was unfailingly racist or simply racially insensitive. I also presume there will be much contention about whether a comment that was reportedly off the record should have been leaked to the public. And I suspect Williams will continue to beg for the public’s mercy.
Already some media outlets are calling for Scott to immediately discontinue his looper’s employment. That’s a personal issue between them, but this news hits home as a personal issue between Williams and every single person who takes offense to this overture.
Intended or not, Williams’ comment contained inauspicious implications. If he wants to refer to a former boss and friend with a derogatory term, that’s well within his right. When he uses a racial adjective, it becomes a hurtful comment on multiple levels.