Steve Elkington has become a master of the bad joke.
Elkington’s latest boneheaded move was to hit the send button last week on a lame crack about football player Michael Sam’s sexuality. In the process, Elkington violated at least two rules: 1) if you’re going to make a joke, make sure it’s funny; and 2) don’t make gay jokes on Twitter or anywhere else.
Leave those to Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family
It brings to mind Abraham Lincoln’s words: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
Elkington is not alone in tweeting something better kept to himself. The danger of instant social media is the absence of an editor to save you from yourself. Every experienced writer understands and appreciates that safety net, though it’s not always in the writer’s DNA to admit it.
With his Twitter firestorms – there was the one about a deadly helicopter crash into a Scottish pub (“No beer was spilled”), another about a female golf writer’s body, a feud with Ian Poulter and now the Michael Sam story (“leading the handbag throw at the NFL combine”) – Elkington has done more than offend sensibilities.
He’s also stained his golf career.
A year ago, Elkington’s name conjured up images of a man with an elegant golf swing, a sense of style and a PGA Championship trophy among his 10 PGA Tour wins. Had he not battled allergy and injury issues, Elkington probably would have won more often.
He was a very good player who made a mark on the PGA Tour during his career.
Now that mark looks more like a bruise. Whether the bruise fades is up to Elkington.
Mention Elkington now and people cringe, afraid of the punch line or the next tweet.
He’s brought it on himself.
Were Elkington’s tweets about Sam a one-off, tin-eared submission, it might not be as big an issue. With Elkington, though, it keeps happening. Forget counting to 10 before hitting the “send” button. Count to 1,000.
Even better, just keep counting until the idea passes.
The idea of free speech doesn’t mean the speaker – or tweeter or blogger – is absolved of the consequences resulting from their remarks. Dealing with the blowback is part of the deal.
Elkington may relish the controversy. He obviously has strong opinions and he’s not afraid to share them.
He can think what he wants but sending it into cyberspace is where it gets him in trouble.
That’s why it’s safe to assume the PGA Tour will sanction Elkington for his continued social media controversies. Voicing your opinion comes with responsibilities, and businesses – the PGA Tour may have nonprofit status but it’s a big business – have a right to discipline those who damage the brand.
In a statement, the PGA Tour said, “Under our regulations, conduct unbecoming a professional includes public commentary that is clearly inappropriate or offensive. With respect to this matter, and consistent with our longstanding policy, we do not comment on player disciplinary matters.”
Conduct unbecoming a professional is a broad term and, if we were ever allowed to see how often the PGA Tour had invoked it in dealing with players, we might be surprised by how many times it’s been used.
This is not about political correctness, which has become a convenient way to avoid problems rather than face them. For all the hurt feelings that have been spared, we’d be better off with a little more direct conversation.
Maybe that’s part of what Elkington was getting at when he tweeted that too much attention was being paid to Sam’s sexual orientation. He’s right. If Elkington has mastered the tone-deaf joke, the media has mastered overkilling a story.
For the moment, however, it’s a big deal that for the first time an openly gay player is entering the NFL draft just as it was a big deal when Jason Collins, a gay basketball player, signed with the Brooklyn Nets.
When the day comes that a PGA Tour player announces he’s gay, it will be a big deal then, too, because it will be a first.
Eventually, we’ll reach the point where an athlete’s sexuality isn’t displayed on magazine covers and made the subject of talk-show discussions. We’re not there yet, obviously.
When the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, the thought never crossed my mind that Russell Wilson was a black quarterback. It wasn’t until a week or so later when the subject was raised on a radio show that I thought about it. That was the host’s point – it didn’t matter anymore.
Elkington, it seems, is a smart guy. He has embraced technology and has used it to build a business beyond golf.
He can see beyond the practice tee and the golf course. Is there malice in what he’s put out on Twitter?
Only he can say for sure.
And maybe Elkington should just keep it to himself for a while.