Two years ago my son, 6 years old at the time, was loafing in a YMCA-league soccer game. Absolutely loafing. When the game was over, I walked over to him and told him I was disappointed he didn’t try harder and that he was playing like a girl.
With my daughter standing nearby, my wife gave me a ration of you-know-what like she had never done before. You can imagine how the one-sided conversation went down. Forced to view a commonly used phrase from the viewpoint of the people it disparages, I’ve never made such a comparison again.
I flashed back to this incident on Friday as I sat in my office, glued to Twitter, monitoring reaction of Ted Bishop’s antiquated “Lil Girl” comments toward Ian Poulter. Mainly I stewed at how little of the fuss came from those who I suspected would have the loudest voices – high-profile women deeply rooted in the game.
The hours passed and there was no response from the LPGA, the most successful women’s professional sports organization in history that was founded nearly 65 years ago. Finally a statement was released Saturday morning, some 40 hours after Bishop’s damning posts.
Golf Channel made attempts to reach several of the most respected women in the game and nearly all did not feel comfortable enough to comment.
Annika Sorenstam released a one-sentence statement later in the day. Nancy Lopez spoke softly. Golf Channel’s Paige Mackenzie made pointed comments on both Morning Drive and Golf Central. Prominent PGA of America member Suzy Whaley spoke strongly and eloquently and was the least afraid to tackle the issue.
“Obviously, I was extremely disturbed by it,” Whaley said on Golf Central. “There were extremely insulting and sexist.
“For me to hear comments that are derogatory about young girls, or insulting, just because you are a girl, is offensive. Our board of directors took swift action. The PGA of America finds it quite critical to be inclusive and we will continue to do so moving forward.”
Everyone else? Radio silence.
Moving on: Can this be a teachable moment?
I’m not knocking anyone for feeling how they do. That’s not my thing. I would never sit here, as a male journalist, and tell women they’re wrong because they didn’t shout from the mountaintop that Bishop’s comments were demeaning and in extremely poor taste.
As a member of the golf industry for 17 years and as the father of a 9-year-old daughter, however, I wonder why there wasn’t more public discussion. I covered the LPGA extensively for six years (2001-06) and I know how passionate players are about their tour. There wasn’t another woman in a position of power who thought Bishop’s comments were a bigger deal than I did? Why did more public outcry surround Paulina Gretzky gracing the cover of Golf Digest’s May issue than did Bishop’s Facebook post saying Poulter acted like a “school girl squealing during recess”?
Perhaps, as one LPGA player suggested to me, some are so desensitized to these comments, they hear them so often while inside the ropes, that this was nothing to get worked up over.
Maybe there’s a feeling that there’s no way for women to win a battle against such a prominent male figure, that going public only does more harm to women than it does good.
Perhaps some were afraid to speak out against the PGA of America, the very organization that swept in and rescued the floundering LPGA Championship and turned it into the Women’s PGA Championship, a better major at a better venue.
There are theories aplenty.
Mostly though, what I really wanted were strong women’s voices for my daughter to hear. I wanted her to have a chance to find a new role model because someone stood up to a powerful organization to say enough is enough. It’s an important issue to me as a father and it makes me wonder if it’s a big deal to women. Right now, I’m not certain. Perhaps my moral compass needs to be recalibrated, but I expected more from women’s leadership.
I shared most of my concerns with women coworkers who appear both in front of and behind the camera and discovered that many were looking for prominent athletes and journalists to step up, too. It wasn’t just me.
Ultimately, Bishop was booted for his poor choice of words and it’s not a surprise. Someone in such a high-ranking position absolutely cannot demean one half of the human race and walk away unscathed. He was a loose cannon anyway and enough was enough. Bishop’s impeachment also tells us that, although there wasn’t an overabundance of public comments from women’s golf A-listers, there was enough heat going on behind closed doors to seal the deal.
Whether you agree with Bishop’s fate isn’t the point; it’s my sincere hope that women don’t view silence as golden the next time this topic arises, because sadly, at some point, it will resurface. When it does I want my daughter to hear more brave voices like Suzy Whaley.