Thursday, April 5, 2012

Augusta National and Female Members...and Activists

First, let me go on record as saying I have a daughter.  I believe my daughter, as I know many of you agree concerning your own children, should have the chance to grow up to become whatever they choose regardless of their sex.  Period.  I do not want her to experience discrimination based on the fact that she is a female.  Now, with that said...I also think it's important to note that I have tried to impart a sense of history and tradition regarding certain things in this world, especially sports.  I've said it before - she wants to be the next Erin Andrews and watches ESPN constantly (which, of course, endears her to daddy even more).  Yet again, however, the debate over women and their membership (or lack thereof) at Augusta National is making headlines and being covered on the evening news.  It's an election year, too, so the candidates and President feel compelled to join the debate.  My comment is as it always has been - "Here we go again."

 Since 1932, Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA has been a male-only club.  The Masters Golf Tournament, made famous by one of the sport's best, Bobby Jones, is being held this weekend and the controversy has emerged anew.  Should women be allowed to become members?  Should the club offer this?  Why is this being debated again this year?  The latter question, more than the other two, is more easily answered.  IBM, one of the premier sponsors of The Masters, has a female as their top executive, Ginni Rometty.  This sponsorship of the tournament guarantees membership for its officers.  Hence, the dilemma.  IBM will not comment on the controversy.  Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National, made this comment at the annual media session - "Well, as has been the case, whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now, and have historically been, subject to the private deliberation of members.  That statement remains accurate; it remains my statement."

Who, you might ask, made this an issue other than the 'glaringly obvious' IBM situation?  Well, it seems that back in 2002, women's rights activist Martha Burk showed up at the gates to the club and led protests against the policy of men-only to no avail.  Unfortunately, ol' Martha has access to much press.  Apparently, she wrote a column for CNN where she stated that, "the woman problem is back."  She more than suggests, at this juncture, that there are, "only two options that are viable that are going to wash with the public - Augusta can open its doors to women, OR IBM can yank its money and force its male executives to resign from the club."  It should be noted that IBM Spokesperson, Chris Andrews, commented, "Augusta National is a private club, and their personal membership is an internal matter."  Well said, even if it was a politically-correct statement on behalf of the company. 

Okay, at this point, a bit of commentary from me on the whole 'activism' thing and how I feel about people using the argument of, "It's the only thing the public will stand for."  Honestly, has the public been asked, or is this your personal opinion and you're using it to further YOUR cause?  Again, don't get me wrong - everyone that knows me understands I, too, believe in equal rights for both men and women.  I am also a big fan of tradition.  The tradition of this golf club and its tournament is rich and filled with the history of the sport.  The membership policies themselves are part of that history.  When this situation, and other like it arise, I often find myself asking how these same activists might feel if I decided I might want to join NOW, their National Organization for Women.  No, I'm not really going to...I don't think, but...maybe,, no...I won't.  Point being, isn't it the same thing?  Okay, there has to be a club like Augusta that, though not filled with as much tradition, has a women-only policy.  I can't think of one at the moment, but that certainly doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  What if men wanted to join?  Would these same activists truly fight for equality...or is this a one-sided fight?

There has been further speculation that Chairman Payne, someone who is more progressive than his predecessor, might offer a membership to Rometty after all, though only after the tournament has ended and the gender debate calms.  Burk, ever the activist, commented upon hearing this news that, "Sorry, but that dog won't hunt.  Telling Rometty to wait a little longer and be a good girl with IBM's collusion would be a disaster - not only for the company's image, but for Rometty's credibility as its leader."  Okay, again, I have to disagree.  This, in my opinion, would be a win-win situation and this argument by Burk further proves my point.  What is the real goal?  If it is to have Augusta National admit women as members, does it really matter WHEN it happens?  Or, as I am more inclined to believe, is it about the headlines and being able to thump her chest to show that she 'beat them good ol' boys, damn it.'  Let's face it - it's about a good fight.  If it isn't about women's rights, it's about racial discrimination.  If not about race, it's made to be about religious background.  Activists are in it for the fight, not the result.  THAT is my issue with their so-called activism.  If Rometty is NOT granted membership, please tell me how that diminishes her credibility as a leader?  Are we missing the big picture here?  She is the top executive at IBM for goodness sake!  Can you imagine saying that 30 years ago??  Now that she is in that position, though, we have to find more to fight about...and believe me when I tell you, Ginni Rometty has plenty of credibility, ability, and clout within the walls of IBM whether she is a member of Augusta National or not.

By the way, now that I am WAY up on my personal soapbox, I want to note, too, that women spectators at Augusta National were, in fact, asked the question about membership.  The majority of them, even if they said, yes, women should be admitted, went on to say that they are also understanding of the tradition of the club.  They aren't as eager as the 'activists' to actually 'fight' for this.  They'd rather walk the lush, gorgeous grounds among the magnolias, sit around the picture-perfect greens, and watch some of the finest golf in the world this weekend.  Here's to you, ladies.  We'll be sitting where we should be - not in front of you, not behind you, but, rather, right beside you.

Until next time.............

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