When Cameron Champ wore one black shoe and one white shoe while playing the BMW Championship just outside Chicago last week, he gracefully and forcefully reminded everyone that golf can’t sit out what’s happening in our country.
The subject of racial and social injustice doesn’t go away where golf tournaments are being played. This isn’t someone else’s fight. It’s everyone’s responsibility.
Champ has worn one black and one white shoe before but not when he was playing in a FedEx Cup playoff event approximately 100 miles from Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the shooting by police of Jacob Blake had further stoked the social discontent that has burned through this uneasy summer.
Champ – one of a very few Black players in professional golf’s highest levels – went one step further, writing Black Lives Matter on his shoes along with the names of his grandfather Mack “Pops” Champ and Breonna Taylor.
It could not have been easy because golf, like so many other parts of our society, isn’t comfortable with conflict. It’s not part of the game, not like it is in boxing or football or political campaigns.
Golf is played in hushed tones but the world is bellowing now and it’s not going to stop any time soon.
“It’s a conversation that’s uncomfortable, sensitive for our country, but if we’re not willing to have those, I don’t think we can move forward as a country,” Tony Finau said.
This is not about politics. It’s about human rights and human lives and just because an overdue national discussion began in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death doesn’t mean things have changed.
The PGA Tour has done great things in raising and distributing more than $3 billion in charity dollars, but players have been reluctant to directly engage in social activism.
When Kirk Triplett, who plays on the PGA Tour Champions, put a Black Lives Matter sticker on his golf bag earlier this summer, he was jarred by the negativity that came his way on social media.
Triplett, who along with his wife adopted a Black son several years ago, did a good thing but they have been rudely reminded of the realities of life that still exist for minorities.
It’s a lesson many of us are still learning.
A day after the NBA playoffs skidded to a halt and professional leagues across the country considered again how to address the heartbreaking injustices that continue, the PGA Tour released a statement supporting teams, leagues and players, including their own, who are “standing up for issues they believe in.”
As it should be, though a statement of solidarity doesn’t change anything. It’s the same for us as individuals. What are we doing?
The tour did not lop a day off the BMW Championship in protest but it could have joined the NBA, the NHL, and other leagues in pausing. When the games stopped for a day or two last week, it reflected the seriousness of the situation. It didn’t change the world but it was intended to keep the focus on an ongoing movement.
It was a powerful moment because sports can affect change and change won’t happen without pushing. The idle players could have at least used the moment to reinforce the importance of voting this fall.
The tour didn’t ignore the situation – Tiger Woods said players talked with commissioner Jay Monahan about what was happening across professional sports and decided to play on – but it ceded the foreground to others.
“I definitely thought about (not playing) for sure, but obviously I feel like I can do a lot more (by) playing, and again, showing my support and expressing myself,” Champ said.
In its statement, the tour stopped short of offering specifics on its next steps following an earlier public commitment to racial equity and inclusion, but said it is working on programs and policies to affect change.
The tour and its players need to be held to that.
How can that change happen?
Keep the conversation going. Show how and where the charity dollars are going, putting faces and results out front. Be proactive. Invest in programs geared toward the needed change in communities where tournaments are being played.
That’s already being done to an extent through the charitable donations generated by events and more can be done. The case can be made that the Evans Scholar program, a primary beneficiary of the BMW Championship, will help thousands of young people through the tour’s charitable donation in the Chicago area, many of those young people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It’s also on the players to take the initiative like Champ did and as Harold Varner III, who has written and spoken eloquently about his life as a Black man, has done. But it can’t just be the few Black players. It needs to be all the players.
“Without dialogue, without talking about it, nothing is going to happen,” Champ said. “It’s a decent start, but obviously there’s still a lot of stuff going on that quite frankly should not be happening at all. And even with Jacob Blake, it’s the same thing.
“I get criticized for doing something, but then when you look at the facts, he’s still a human being. Regardless if he has a criminal record, regardless of any of that, he’s still a human being, and for me just to watch that video – again, regardless of what he’s done in his past or people saying he had an arrest warrant or he had this, he had that – he’s a human being. It just has to end.”
Golf has always boasted about its honorable nature, about players calling penalties on themselves and the way the game tends to reveal one’s character. It’s true, or, perhaps more accurately, it can be true.
Just like everywhere else, golf has its clowns and crooks and connivers. It believes itself to be welcoming and it’s getting better, but that’s a long road that’s still trailing off into the horizon.
This is a moment for growth, for turning difficult conversations into demonstrable change. We watch the best players in the world to marvel at what they can do knowing we can only do a fraction of what they can.
That’s what this bigger movement can and should be. As the FedEx Cup playoffs conclude and the U.S. Open sits on the horizon, it’s a time to celebrate the game at its highest level. It’s also a time to look around, look outside the ropes and think about what Cameron Champ, Tony Finau, Kirk Triplett and others are saying.
This shouldn’t feel threatening.
It’s time to take another step in the long path forward.
One black shoe. One white shoe.
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