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Zoeller loses Kmart sponsorship after controversial comments

April 23, 1997 GMT

Fuzzy Zoeller apologized again for comments about Masters champion Tiger Woods. That wasn’t enough for keep Kmart from dropping its longtime sponsorship of the popular golfer.

Kmart announced its decision Tuesday after Zoeller called Woods ``that little boy″ and urged him not to request fried chicken and collard greens at the Champions Dinner when he returns to Augusta National next year.

The Troy, Mich.-based company said the comments were inappropriate and offensive, even though Zoeller said he was only joking during an interview with CNN shortly after playing the final round at the Masters on April 13.

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``Regardless of the context, they are contrary to Kmart’s longstanding policies that ensure our words and deeds are without bias,″ Kmart said in a statement.

Zoeller, who issued a public apology in a statement Monday, apologized again Tuesday to the acting president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP while in Greensboro for this week’s PGA Tour event.

``People who know me know I’m a jokester. I just didn’t deliver the line well,″ Zoeller said. ``I’m in a no-win situation. Accept my apology, please. I apologized to Tiger. I apologize to anyone I might have offended.″

Skip Alston of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People accepted Zoeller’s apology, but also threatened a boycott of the tournament.

``He didn’t insult only Tiger Woods, but the entire African-American community nationwide,″ Alston said, adding that Zoeller’s comments weren’t ``funny to us. You don’t pick at our culture and expect us to laugh.″

Zoeller is playing in the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, which starts Thursday at the Forest Oaks Country Club. He didn’t comment on the end of his relationship with Kmart.

Rain washed out today’s pro-am tournament and Zoeller was not seen at the golf course.

``It’s a tough situation and I feel bad for Fuzzy very much,″ fellow golfer Mark O’Meara said today. ``I know he feels bad. He is taking it very well, but he’s hurting pretty hard because he feels he’s always been up front with the media and the media has always been good to Fuzzy and then all of the sudden _ boom _ this happens.″

The Greensboro Jaycees, who run the PGA tournament, issued a statement dissociating the organization from Zoeller’s comments. But they went ahead with a long-planned tribute to the golfer Tuesday night because he played in the tournament 22 years in a row.

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Alston said the Jaycees statement was ``trying to sugarcoat their position about Mr. Zoeller.″ Alston said the NAACP might hold a protest during the tournament.

Kmart avoided the prospect of corporate embarrassment by cutting its links to Zoeller after reviewing the comments he made in the CNN interview.

``That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well,″ Zoeller told CNN about an hour after finishing his round at Augusta, while Woods was still on the course completing a 12-stroke victory. ``He’s doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it?″

Zoeller snapped his fingers, turned to walk away, then added, ``Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.″

Woods, as defending champion, will get to select the menu for the Champions Dinner next year.

Kmart spokeswoman Shawn Kahle declined to say how much Kmart paid Zoeller for the sponsorship and to have the golfer promote its products. The company has sponsored him for more than six years under a contract that originally was scheduled to expire in December 1998.

Under his deal with Kmart, Zoeller carried the company logo on his golf bag and visor and also appeared at Kmart events. He was the only pro golfer sponsored by Kmart.

Woods was in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday for private meetings with Nike, his major sponsor. A local television station showed him outside Nike headquarters shooting a promotional spot in which company chairman Phil Knight served as his caddy.

Woods was not available to the media for the second day in a row, and Nike spokesman Jim Small said he had no comment on Kmart’s decision.

During an interview with Oprah Winfrey that will be broadcast on Thursday, Woods said it bothers him when people call him an African-American. He is one-fourth black, one-fourth Thai, one-fourth Chinese, one-eighth white and one-eighth American Indian.

``Growing up,″ he said, ``I came up with this name: I’m a `Cablinasian.″