Are sports the right venue for social protest?
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
On the weekend, President Donald Trump criticized a number of NFL and NBA athletes in various ways but was most outspoken about players disrespecting their flag and their country by kneeling during the national anthem. A number of PGA Tour players have indicated their support for their fellow athletes. Do you think sports are an appropriate place for players to make a political statement or should they be about the competition only?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): It depends what they’re protesting, and whether I agree with them! I believe the initial protest started with Colin Kaepernick making a statement against police treatment of minorities, a protest that I fully support. But if another athlete wanted to protest the harsh treatment given to, say, Michael Vick for his support of animal cruelty, then I’d be totally against it.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I guess this is a good time to disclose that I am both a huge Colin Kaepernick fan and all for players protesting on the sidelines (or remaining in the locker room, like 98% of the Pittsburgh Steelers did on Sunday) during the anthems. Athletes are always in the public eye, but never so much as they are directly before a kick off/tip off/puck drop/etc. They are absolutely correct to utilize these spotlights to get their messages across, especially if their protests are intended to affect positive change in the world! It actually boggles my mind that these athletes are being labelled “un-American” and “traitors” for peacefully protesting systemic racism and social injustice. That is literally the most American thing that you can do. Good grief!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Only the child king, the tweeter in chief and his mouth-breathing redneck acolytes think Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling was about the flag and patriotism. It is the most divisive — and egomaniacal and ill-informed — president (to use one of his pat phrases that he applies nonsensically) the U.S. ‘has ever seen’ who made this mis-conception political and delivered it to the world of sport. It is now a multi-sport gesture not to draw attention to US police brutality against Blacks and racial discrimination in general as it started; it is not and never was The Donald’s anti-flag and anti-patriotism protest; but it is now a symbol of anti-Trumpism recognized around the world. Thanks to Drumpf and his being “on Twitter more than a 12-year-old” as Raptor’s DeMar DeRozan said, athletes will not ‘shut up and play’ for a long time, at least until the problem in the White House is resolved.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Entertainment, including spectator sports, is an escape from the realities and pressures of everyday life, which is why political statements or demonstrations in the name of any cause are an annoying intrusion. It’s also why they work so well. I don’t have a problem with Colin Kaepernick or his issue – in fact, I’m very supportive – and I like that so many athletes are showing their support. Real change occurs when there is overwhelming social pressure to force it and that only happens when enough people shine a light on the problem that it can’t be ignored. What bothers me is when others, especially politicians and those in certain parts of the media, twist the message to use it for their own purposes, which is often at odds with the initial protest. This one has gotten ugly fast but hopefully the worthwhile cause won’t be lost in the mayhem.
The European Tour has announced a new event for next season called the Belgian Shootout. It’s a combination of stroke play and match play. The field is narrowed down to low 64 players after two rounds of stroke play, then a series of 9-hole matches on the weekend – three on Saturday and three on Sunday – to determine a winner. What do you think of the concept and would it work on the PGA Tour?
Deeks: I think it sounds original and very interesting. And yes, it could certainly work on the PGA Tour. But I doubt that the Tour would ever try it, because there’d be a huge risk that a couple of no-names or lesser names could squeak through into the finals. Therefore, low ratings. Therefore, good luck, European Tour… let us know how that works for ya…
Kaplan: I like it. Let’s shake things up a little bit. There are way too many consecutive stroke play tournaments during the heart of the season and it just gets so repetitive after a while. Not only is match play fun to watch, but it also pits some of the best players in the world head-to-head. Who wouldn’t be interested in seeing more of that? It’s got to be way better than the FedEx Cup points system, which is stupid and confusing. I did not like having to rely on periodic math updates from Steve Sands throughout last Sunday’s broadcast to find out who was leading the field. How have they not gotten this right yet?
Quinn: The concept is terrific, just carrying the risk of stars being eliminated early, but the 9-hole weekend matches are a wonderful made-for-TV idea. I think the PGA Tour guys would embrace it, but what event would be jettisoned on the packed and recently re-jigged and sped up schedule to clear a week for it? It would take a major sponsor not renewing and another big spender stepping up. Meanwhile, the sports jackets at Ponte Vedra will be watching the Shootout closely.
Mumford: I’m a huge fan of team golf events and match play especially. I’d love to see more head to head competition between players, where winners move on and losers go home. This would absolutely work on the PGA Tour. Now that Tim Finchem is gone, maybe the new honchos running things will loosen up a bit and try new formats. It would be really fun if the players played for their own money too.
The Presidents Cup will be played this week at Liberty National GC across the river from New York City. What are your expectations and does the International Team need to win occasionally to keep this event relevant?
Deeks: I personally enjoy the Presidents Cup as much as the Ryder, and I don’t really care who wins, although I’m always rooting for the Internationals. I don’t think anybody really takes the competition all that seriously, and as long as it draws a decent enough television audience, the winning team won’t matter. I don’t know how the ratings have held up over the years, but the event’s still going despite a totally lopsided US dominance.
Kaplan: The Americans are going to destroy this international team. It might be the most lopsided Presidents Cup yet and that is a major problem because this event is very quickly turning into golf’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals. The international squad is 1-9-1 in this biennial event and that record is going to look even worse on Monday. The powers that be should strongly consider letting at least a handful of European players join the international squad for the next decade to even the rosters up a little bit. Otherwise, this tournament is going to become a running joke amongst golf fans.
Quinn: Oh, they doing this again? They had to stoop to wheeling out Clinton for a glint of Prez cachet, however tarnished. How can something that is irrelevant be kept relevant? It’s too late. The season ended with Schauffele’s last putt at East Lake.
Mumford: As I said above, team match play events are the best. It really doesn’t matter which team wins, there will be 30 compelling matches this week, each with their own storyline. Maybe the Internationals need to win occasionally to keep the sponsors happy but the Chicago Cubs went 108 years without winning and it didn’t seem to dilute their fan interest. On the contrary, waiting for a possible World Series title was part of the frustration and excitement of being a fan.