Did anybody stop to think that perhaps Justin Thomas directed the infamous slur at his golf ball, not at himself? Well, this reader did
I think everyone is missing the point of Justin Thomas’ audio misstep (“From the Morning Read inbox,” Jan. 19, Jan. 20, Jan. 22, Jan. 24). When he said “you .....”, he wasn’t aiming it at any group of society; he was talking to his ball (“Justin Thomas apologizes for homophobic slur caught on TV,” Jan. 11).
We have a very close, personal, love/hate relationship with our golf ball. We begin each round putting our own identifying marks on it. Those marks are intended to say, You’re mine. Sometimes it tries to hide from us, but we usually find it. Throughout the round we tell the ball what to do ... sit, go, bite, run, stop, get up, get down. After the ball does something really spectacular, we might even kiss it. The ball understands that when it does something good, it’ll get rewarded, perhaps with a kiss or maybe even retirement. Do something bad and it gets scolded and motivated to do better. Continue bad things, and it’s put back into the bag for timeout.
Just as we do with other close relationships, things are said that aren’t acceptable when aimed at the public, but are commonplace within our personal relationship. Our golf ball knows that when it misbehaves, it’s likely to be called a name or somehow punished. And it knows that if it does something really well, it might be retired to the comfort of our home.
What’s said between us and our golf ball is between us. If the ball is really offended, it can leave us to live deep in the woods or swim with the fishes. If it doesn’t, it can use the scolding as motivation. Justin Thomas was just trying to motivate his close, personal friend.
For this, he needs counseling? Come on, man!
A deeper probe for redemption
I met Justin Thomas a couple of years ago at a PGA of America Met Section dinner. He was humble, approachable, friendly and low-key. He made a real effort to have a two-way discussion, and he was terrific.
But, I wish I had a nickel for every celebrity, from Dustin Hoffman to Justin Thomas, who committed various boo-boos and then rendered “heartfelt” apologies with some common themes (annotated by me):
– It’s not who I really am (actually it is; see more below)
– If I have offended anyone, I’m sorry (hey, dude, obviously you offended a horde of folks)
– All of this will make me a better person (just apologizing, no it won’t) – I never have said or done anything like that before (what do you think we are, stupid?)
These apologies, heartfelt as they actually might be (as opposed to a blatant plea to sponsors and fans to forgive them), utterly miss the point. The misdeeds – in this case, Thomas excoriating himself with a homophobic “F-word” when he missed a putt (“Justin Thomas apologizes for homophobic slur caught on TV,” Jan. 11) – are in fact exactly who they are. To paraphrase Bill Parcells, You are what your record says you are.
At a moment of high stress and anger at himself, Thomas spits out the homophobic “F-word.” Maybe next time (or perhaps previously) he spits out the N-word. Or a Mexican slur. Or an Italian slur. Or a Jewish slur.
Would the world be rushing to forgive him because it’s just one incident?
We can leave aside whether Thomas’ views are outliers on the PGA Tour, which never will be confused with the Rainbow Coalition.
Thomas spat out a homophobic epithet to flagellate himself when he missed a putt. I do not think I am going out on much of a limb to say that, if Thomas really was embracing of the LGBTQ community, of course he would not accuse himself of being an “F-word” when he messed up.
Interestingly, sponsor Titleist has not dropped him, nor even commented on this incident, likely because Titleist believes (probably correctly) that its customers care only about performance and low scores. Ralph Lauren/Polo, on the other hand, is a woke brand and fancies itself as inclusive and sensitive and thus cannot associate with an athlete whose behavior flies in the face of those beliefs, for fear of offending its customers.
The PGA Tour is in a tough spot. It has to penalize Thomas, but on the other hand, it cannot demonize him, because how many bona fide superstars in this post-Tiger Woods era do we have?
But back to Thomas and other celebrities who blow smoke at us with their heartfelt mea culpas. Here might be a more accurate apology:
“I said something terrible. Had it not been caught on video, we would not be having this discussion because my prejudices are none of your business as long as I was not, er, ‘outed’ for being homophobic. Of course I offended anyone and everyone who is either part of the LGBTQ community or cares about their treatment and rights. Duh.
“Obviously I have issues with that community or else I would not regard the “F-word” as worthy of self-description when I missed a key putt. And what’s up with those super-sensitive microphones, dang it?
“I need to figure out, pronto, why I have these views about this community and how I can change my prejudices (or, to be more charitable to myself, “biases”). And by owning that, maybe I can help others do the same (as well as convincing my fans and sponsors to embrace me again).
“I will try very hard to make amends. But I know I am not entitled to a pass here because it’s the first time I was caught saying something absolutely unacceptable.”
I know – and certainly believe and hope – that Justin Thomas is redeemable. The process to that, however, has to start with honesty and candor, as opposed to tired and canned public-relations patter.
Peter S. Kaufman
Those virgin sacrifices never work, so please don’t try it at home
When will Nike cut shoe contracts with basketball and football players using politically suspect language during games? Should we presume that Mike Purkey’s attack on Justin Thomas reflects the author’s commitment to set new punishments for all professional athletes, or is Purkey just trying to save himself from the Twitter mob? (“Justin Thomas incident puts all golfers on notice,” Jan. 22).
Purkey’s commentary seemed a lot like the old “King Kong” film in which the natives sacrificed a virgin in hopes of calming a monster.
I’m looking forward to seeing whom Purkey next will throw under the bus.
(Clemmons is a certified master club fitter and the founder of CCCGolfUSA.)
NBC and Babineau get it right regarding LPGA
I played remote roulette, watching the football, the PGA Tour and the LPGA event. The women more than held their own (“It’s LPGA showtime as Jessica Korda wins opener,” Jan. 25). Danielle Kang and the Korda sisters were fantastic. Their demeanor, precision and delight at the competition were infectious.
I first thought it strange that the men were playing on Golf Channel while the women were on NBC, but the women put on a much better show, though the celebrity factor might have been the reason for the NBC/Comcast decision.
Thanks to Jeff Babineau for helping inform golf fans of the skills on display would we but look.
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