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National Columnist

Sergio's racist joke aimed at Tiger not funny, to define Garcia's legacy

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Sergio Garcia's weak attempt at humor later drew an apology to Tiger Woods. (Getty Images)
Sergio Garcia's weak attempt at humor later drew an apology to Tiger Woods. (Getty Images)

So this is how we'll remember Sergio Garcia. Not as the great golfer, because he's never quite been that. Not as the head case, though he definitely has been that. Not even as the whiner, the moaner, the guy who complains about every little thing and even spits into the damn hole in the middle of a round.

Those are parts of his character, part of who he is, but that's not how history will remember Sergio Garcia.

We'll remember him as the racist.

Fair or not -- and I don't see how this is remotely unfair -- we'll remember Garcia as the guy who taunted Tiger Woods with a comment about fried chicken.

That wasn't a joke, what Garcia said Tuesday at the European Tour awards dinner in London. Garcia and Woods have been feuding for weeks -- not a teasing feud but the real thing with real, actual hard feelings -- when someone in the media tossed Garcia a softball by asking if he planned to hang out with Woods next month during the U.S. Open.

"We will have him round every night," Garcia said. "We will serve fried chicken."

Rim shot, right? No? Oh.

Fuzzy Zoeller did the same sort of thing once, making fun of 21-year-old Tiger Woods after Tiger's first win at the Masters in 1997 by calling him a "little boy" and saying, "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."

They?

What Zoeller said was awful, indefensible, hurtful, and while we remember him for those comments, I hope they're not his legacy. They're not who he is. Fuzzy is a world-class jokester who told a bad joke -- a hurtful joke, an indefensible joke -- and for that he apologized, but in his mind he was just telling one of his jokes, a joke from the 1950s when he was growing up in a small town in Indiana. He's from another place, another time, and it spilled out when he made that joke in 1997 about a "boy" who would request "fried chicken ... or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve" at the next Masters Champion Dinner. Zoeller was 46 at the time, a product of another era. That doesn't excuse what he said, but it helps explain it. That's just an opinion, but that's my opinion.

Sergio's comment has no such explanation. He's not a good-hearted goofball jokester from a bygone era. Sergio is 33 years old. He was born in 1980. He has lived every second of his life in a time and place where you don't taunt a man like Tiger Woods with a comment about fried chicken. Short of calling him a racial epithet, Sergio's comment -- aimed at the one player he has been targeting for weeks -- were about as nakedly racist as possible.

You have to consider who Garcia is, and who he is not. He is not, to be frank here, Fuzzy Zoeller. Garcia doesn't go around making quips -- he whines. While Zoeller attacks life with a grin, Sergio Garcia wades into it with a martyr complex, seeing enemies and issues everywhere, pointing fingers at those who are conspiring to keep him down. This is who he is. It's who he was long before he taunted Tiger Woods with fried chicken.

Garcia apologized later Tuesday. Someone in his management team -- possibly every single person in his management team, from his agent to his marketing rep to his swing coach to his caddy -- realized that Garcia had crossed a line you simply can't cross. Garcia issued a statement that read, "I apologize for any offense that may have been caused by my comment on stage during the European Tour Players' Awards dinner. I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark, but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner."

His apology, like his comment about fried chicken, is for you to judge. Here's how I judge it:

Sergio Garcia was asked a lighthearted question about Tiger Woods. He had at his disposal millions of words, countless possibilities. He chose 12 words.

"We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken."

That's not a "silly remark." That's racist. Garcia is in full backtrack mode, too, having a brief press conference on Wednesday morning to apologize again. On Wednesday he noted, "My answer was totally stupid and out of place. ... I feel sick about it."

That's good, but not good enough. Sad to say, nothing would have been good enough. There is no going back. Not from something as bad as those 12 words from Tuesday night. Years from now when the name "Sergio Garcia" comes up, the apologies aren't what I'll remember. It's the 12 words that came first.

Not sure I'll remember all 12 words he said Tuesday night -- but I'll never forget the last two.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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