News & Opinion

Justin Thomas pays price for slur

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas faces corporate backlash for his recent homophobic slur, despite a prompt apology.

Ralph Lauren drops PGA Tour player after homophobic outburst is caught by TV mic, but other sponsors apparently remain onboard

Less than one week after Justin Thomas uttered a homophobic slur in frustration on the golf course, one of his key sponsors has responded with some strong language of its own.

Fashion company Ralph Lauren, which has sponsored Thomas since he turned professional in 2013, dropped the American as a paid endorser, the company announced.

“We believe in the dignity of all people, regardless of age, race, gender identity, ethnicity, political affiliation or sexual orientation,” the company said Friday in a statement. “In reflecting on the responsibility we have to all of our stakeholders, we have decided to discontinue our sponsorship of Mr. Thomas at this time.”

Thomas quickly apologized for the derogatory comment, which was picked up by an on-course microphone during the third round of the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions on Jan. 9 at Kapalua Resort in Hawaii.

“It’s inexcusable,” he said to Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis after the round. “First off, I just apologize. I mean, there's no excuse. I'm an adult. I'm a grown man; there's absolutely no reason for me to say anything like that.”

The incident occurred after Thomas missed a 4-foot par putt on the fourth hole at Kapalua’s Plantation Course. A greenside microphone picked up Thomas uttering the slur to himself, and the comment was heard on Golf Channel’s telecast.

Despite the quick mea culpa, Ralph Lauren and its Polo brand of clothing opted to ditch the No. 3-ranked player in the world.

“While we acknowledge that he has apologized and recognizes the severity of his words,” the Ralph Lauren statement read, “he is a paid ambassador of our brand, and his actions conflict with the inclusive culture that we strive to uphold.”

Acushnet-owned brands Titleist and FootJoy, which also sponsor Thomas, still were listed as backers on his website. Less than a year ago, PGA Tour player Scott Piercy was dumped by Titleist, FootJoy and at least two other sponsors just days after he posted a homophobic slur directed as presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Instagram. Piercy apologized and reportedly was disciplined by the PGA Tour.

According to his website, Thomas also has sponsorships with Citi, NetJets, Woodford Reserve, Beats by Dr. Dre and Troon.

Thomas, who did not compete in the PGA Tour’s recent Sony Open in Hawaii, was listed in the field for the European Tour’s 2021 opener, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil-rights organization, tweeted after the incident: "This type of discriminatory language causes real harm, and there is no place for it in sports. We must continue to work for greater inclusion and acceptance. That's how we all ultimately will win."

Thomas, 27, whose 13 PGA Tour victories include the 2017 PGA Championship, is a former top-ranked player in the world. His next appearance on the PGA Tour, based on his past years' schedules, likely will be at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Feb. 4-7 at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona.

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