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Kmart ends relationship with Fuzzy Zoeller after controversial comments

April 23, 1997

TROY, Mich. (AP) _ Kmart Corp. will no longer sponsor Fuzzy Zoeller or have him promote Kmart products because of racially charged comments he made about Masters champion Tiger Woods.

The decision was made late Tuesday after reviewing Zoeller’s comments, company spokeswoman Shawn Kahle said. ``We have just agreed for a parting of the ways,″ she said.

Kahle said the decision was mutual.

Zoeller issued a public apologies Monday and Tuesday, the latter to an NAACP leader in Greensboro, N.C., for calling Woods ``that little boy″ and urging him not to request fried chicken or collard greens for the Champions Dinner next year at Augusta National.

Zoeller made the remarks while Woods was en route to becoming the first black to win the Masters on April 13.

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

Kahle declined to say how much Kmart paid Zoeller for sponsorship and promotions. She said the company has sponsored him for more than six years and that his contract would have expired in December 1998.

Zoeller’s agent, Eddie Elias of Akron, Ohio, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

At Greensboro, Skip Alston, acting president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, asked for and accepted an expanded apology from Zoeller.

``He didn’t insult only Tiger Woods, but the entire African-American community nationwide,″ Alston said during a news conference in downtown Greensboro.

Zoeller is playing in the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, which starts Thursday at the Forest Oaks Country Club.

``All I can do is hope they accept my apology,″ Zoeller said of the NAACP leaders. ``I meant nothing by it. People who know me know I’m a jokester. I just didn’t deliver the line well. I’m in a no-win situation. Accept my apology, please. I apologized to Tiger. I apologize to anyone I might have offended.″

Alston also demanded and got a statement from the Greensboro Jaycees, organizers of the Greensboro tournament, dissociating the organization from Zoeller’s comments.

The Jaycees went ahead with a long-planned tribute to Zoeller Tuesday night for his loyalty to the Greensboro tournament, in which he has played 22 straight years.

Alston said the Jaycees’ statement was ``trying to sugarcoat their position about Mr. Zoeller.″ As a result, the NAACP may protest at the tournament, Alston said.

The Kmart deal meant Zoeller carried the company logo on his golf bag and visor. He also appeared at Kmart events and promoted Kmart golf products, although Kahle said he hasn’t promoted products since 1995.

She said the company received a ``significant volume″ of telephone calls from throughout the country after Zoeller’s comments were reported in the media. She said most of the comments were critical of Zoeller.

During an interview with CNN that was released on Sunday, Zoeller said of Woods, ``That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. 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.

Zoeller said in a statement released by his agent, ``My comments were not intended to be racially derogatory, and I apologize for the fact that they were misconstrued in that fashion.″ He said he planned to speak with Woods to explain his comments when their schedules allowed.

Kmart operates 2,134 Kmart and Super Kmart Centers in all 50 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.

Zoeller was the only pro golfer the company sponsored.

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