Saturday, April 7, 2012

Feminism in Sports

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Burk’s Crusade is a Bust

Elizabeth Miller

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April , 00


The Masters is one of the oldest and most prestigious tournaments in modern golf history, dating back to 14. Every year the best players in the world of golf congregate in Augusta, Georgia all with the hopes of wearing the illustrious green jacket. Augusta National is the golf course that is home to the Masters, the green jackets and now national controversy. Late last year, the headlines of magazines, newspapers and websites began to buzz about Martha Burk and her crusade for women’s rights. The issue that caused all this commotion is the membership roster at Augusta National; there are no women on it. It is not unusual to find private golf clubs, such as Augusta National, that have all male membership but because the Masters, the tournament, is open to the public there is a lot of grey area as to whether Augusta National is practicing discrimination by not admitting females to their membership register.

The Masters was created in 14 by Bob Jones and Clifford Roberts. Winning a green jacket at Augusta is synonymous with winning the Masters the tournament. Each member of Augusta National is issued a green jacket to wear during the Masters to signify to whom the club belongs. Each professional golfer that wins the Masters is also issued a green jacket and is made an honorary member of Augusta National. Each member of Augusta National is allowed to have guests to play golf, among these guests are women. However, to this day there is not one female member at the Augusta National club. This fact has raised many eyebrows in the golf community but has never caused any formal protest.

However a formal protest did start almost a year ago, on June 1th, 00; when Augusta National President, Hootie Johnson received a letter from Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. Burk urged Johnson and the membership of Augusta National to admit a female member into their currently all male club, prior to the 00 Masters tournament. Johnson rebutted with a very public, very firm refusal, “there may well be a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours, and not at the point of a bayonet.” When Martha Burk first sent her letter to Hootie Johnson neither party had any idea what they were getting into. Burk trivialized the role of women in combat by stating that women are allowed to fight in Iraq but not golf at Augusta. Her campaign for women members at Augusta National caused two important members of the club to resign. Thomas Wyman, a 5-year member at Augusta National and former CEO of CBS, resigned in protest over the womens issue. He said Johnsons position was “pigheaded.” Treasury Secretary Nominee John W. Snow also resigned his membership at Augusta National. Hootie Johnson took an unprecedented step when on August 0th; he severed all relations with sponsors so that they could avoid the controversy. These sponsors included Citigroup, IBM Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. Soon after the dispute ensued Burk assured Johnson and the American public that she would be at Augusta National to protest. It was at this point that other organizations followed suit and decided to side with Burk. Charles Farrell a representative for Rainbow Sports a division of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition supports Burk because, “We find this morally offensive at a time when Saddam Hussein is gender eligible to be a member of Augusta, yet the woman who is an Iraqi POW is not.” The Ku Klux Klan made a public announcement that during the third round of the Masters they too would have representation at Augusta National in favor of Hootie Johnson.

When the day finally came, April 1th, 00, Burk’s protest was somewhat under par. Sometime around 11 a.m., a bus pulled up on Washington Road and, as the sound system loudly projected the Helen Reddy song I Am Woman, the protesters stepped off the bus. By best count, there were somewhere between 0 and 0 of them. At that point, police had protesters outnumbered probably four or five to one. It was almost the same ratio for media members to protesters. Several minutes later, Burk stepped out of a car on the other side of the field and, swarmed by the media, walked up to the stage. Sometime during the rally, someone called Augusta a police state and someone else held up a 1-foot placard of a Ku Klux Klansman with the Masters emblem on his white robe. Also during the rally, an anti-Burk protester, maybe 15 feet away from her, directly in front of the stage, held up a hand-lettered orange sign that read Make Me Dinner! on one side and Iron My Shirt! on the other.

For over a year Martha Burk tried to force Hootie Johnson and the membership to admit a female to their exclusive boys club. When it was her turn to protest and show her distaste towards the practices of Augusta National the demonstration was a more of a stunt. On March 8th, 00 almost a month before the planned protests Tiger Woods predicted this outcome for the Masters, “It’s going to be an absolute joke, just a zoo, I think a lot of us players are really going to get inside the ropes and playing and not having to deal with a lot of this stuff.” This was most definitely the case. The most support that Martha Burk received was from the people driving by and staring, other than the protestors she had bused in, no one showed up.

Supporters of Hootie Johnson say the membership at Augusta National is not doing anything wrong. Technically, Augusta National is totally within its Constitutional rights by choosing to assemble as an all male group. This is covered in the Bill of Rights when it states

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The men of Augusta National are assembling peacefully when they gather to have dinner or play golf in Augusta, Georgia so there is nothing that the US Government or any other governing body can say to make them change their ways. Augusta National always treats females, when visiting, with the greatest respect on the course, range and in the dining room. So women are allowed to visit Augusta National, with a member of course, and while they may be excluded from this boys club, they aren’t discriminated against.

John Steinbreder, of Golfweek, is a supporter of Hootie Johnson, the membership and the values practiced at Augusta National. He like most Americans realizes that, “Clubs, as a rule, are confined to certain social and economic groups, and what smells like discrimination to the uninitiated is really just a matter of perfectly acceptable exclusivity.” The exclusivity found at Augusta National is the same that can be found in many other places including Boston found Healthworks a women-only health club. The members of Augusta National are CEOs, President’s and owners of corporate America. They are all wealthy important people in society. Just as easily as Martha Burk is crusading for women’s rights a less wealthy person could make the same argument, Augusta National discriminates. The less wealthy, like women, are not allowed to play at Augusta National without the company of a guest, nor can they become members. However, to the less wealthy its not discrimination, it is just a lack of money on their part that prohibits them from joining a club such as Augusta National.

Before the event there was a lot of media hype. There were numerous articles in all of the major newspapers, on most of the major news websites and in every sports publication imaginable. In most of the sports publications [i.e. Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, etc] articles were pretty one-sided, supporting Hootie Johnson and Augusta National. It was the national newspapers that the other side of the story was presented. The New York Times Sports section and The Boston Globe both featured articles pertaining to gender discrimination. The New York Times featured an article about a Pennsylvania golf club that also doesn’t permit women as members. The Boston Globe featured article about a women’s only health club. In both articles the opposing view was presented to readers. A woman was interviewed about the Pennsylvania golf club and a man was the featured speaker in The Boston Globe article.

During the event, there wasn’t an overwhelming of press coverage. It seemed as though the press figured out what the public had prior to the Masters. Martha Burk’s attacks on Hootie Johnson were real however not that major. Had Burk’s claims been a pressing event she would have made a larger effort to collect supporters for her cause. At the actual rally there were between 0 and 0 women protesting alongside Martha Burk. That is a lot of women but for this event it would have been more effective had Burk arrived to Augusta National before 11 o’clock in the morning and if she had brought more women who supported her cause.

Now that is it post Masters, the media hype has died down and the name Martha Burk will soon be a name forgotten. This controversy, however, will not be forgotten. Any golf club from now on that host a tournament that is known on any level be it local, regional or national it better have its member policies in order. That means no gender discrimination or race discrimination.

In conclusion Martha Burk had a noble crusade and had she made a more noble effort more of the American public would have taken her seriously. What her crusade lacked was a large support base and more vocal supporters. If Martha Burk had taken these points into consideration she may have had a chance when she went up against the members of Augusta National.

National Organization for Women. Asked to Admit Women, Golf Club Goes ‘Ballistic’. July 00. http// Golf Masters Controversy Timeline. April 00. http// Not Buying into Burk’s Latest Rants. 8 March 00. http//

Sheeley, Glenn. Tiger expecting ‘a zoo’ at Augusta. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 8 March 00.

U.S National Archives & Records Administration. Charters of Freedom The Bill of Rights. April 00 http//

Steinbreder, John. “Augusta can do whatever it wants.” Golfweek 18 January 00.

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