Twenty-two miles lie between the Minneapolis corner store where George Floyd was murdered and the Tournament Player’s Club in Blaine, site of the PGA Tour’s 3M Open this past weekend. It was the first major sporting event to be played in Minnesota since May 25 — the day that Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. The Twin Cities was the perfect setting for the PGA Tour to take a strong stance against injustice and make a statement of solidarity.
The Tour certainly did a lot of good while in town, helping raise $1.5 million for COVID relief and the fight for social justice, but the chance to broadcast a meaningful message of support was lost 22 miles from where George Floyd lost his life. In a time when so much of the information we consume shapes attitudes and actions, messaging matters more than ever, and the PGA Tour blew an absolute tap-in last week in Minneapolis.
Every major American sport has joined in the struggle to end systemic racism, police brutality and oppression in some form or fashion, some with a stronger and more public commitment than others. Early communications from the PGA Tour and Commissioner Jay Monahan showed a genuine desire to be a part of the solution: to learn, to improve the state of racial affairs. But the Tour’s actions haven’t quite matched those of their peers.
The paint on the courts in the NBA’s Disney Bubble leaves no question as to the NBA’s undeniable position — Black Lives Matter — boldly displayed for the world to see. Players have chosen to use the Bubble as a platform to spread a message and drive change through the league’s exposure. The Association also produced a powerful video declaring “The Truth is #BlackLivesMatter.” Not to be outdone, the WNBA has dedicated their entire season to Breonna Taylor and has formed a social justice council to advance social justice causes.
Major League Baseball players all across the country took a knee before the National Anthem in support of the movement. The MLB logo has incorporated the initials BLM in support of the cause. At Fenway Park, one of baseball’s most iconic stadiums, a 250-foot long billboard reads Black Lives Matter in letters two stories high. In Boston. The Tampa Bay Rays went HAM with an opening day tweet calling for the arrest of Breonna Taylor’s killers.
From his famous basement/man cave in New York, NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell took to social media to make the stance of America’s most popular sport crystal clear, “We, The National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.” The NFL plans of having the names of victims of police brutality on the back of their helmets. Victims like Broenna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Botham Jean.
The infield at Talladega Motor Speedway read #IStandWithBubba as every driver and pit crew member walked with Bubba Wallace’s Black Lives Matter #43 car to the start line after a noose had been found in the garage of the sole Black driver in NASCAR. Richard Petty, perhaps the goodest and the oldest of NASCAR’s Good Ol’ Boys, stood in support of his driver Wallace for all 3.4 million viewers to see.
At the opening game of the “MLS is Back” tournament, players from every team in the league held a tribute, their first raised in silent solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. In the English Premier League, all 20 teams replaced player last names with Black Lives Matter on jerseys.
Alabama Football. North Carolina Basketball. They know it; They say it; Black Lives Matter.
The PGA Tour’s actions? During the Charles Schwab Challenge the message on the tee sheet of PGATOUR.com read as follows:
“As the PGA TOUR commits to amplifying the voices and efforts underway to end systemic issues of racial and social injustices impacting our country, we have reserved the 8:46 a.m. tee time at the Charles Schwab Challenge to pay our respects to the memory of George Floyd. We will pause at 8:46 a.m. during each round for a moment of silence, prayer and reflection.”
Important to note this was June 11 and the moment of silence was observed for each of the four rounds. Equally important to point out that the very next event there were threesomes going off both the 1st and 10th tee at exactly 8:46 a.m. The Tour didn’t hold the 8:46 a.m. tee time in Minneapolis, either. They only did it once.
So if everyone else is on board with Black Live Matter, what gives?
The biggest stars in the game were active participants of June 2 #blackouttuesday campaign with Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler and others taking part. Many received negative criticism from fans for doing so. Brooks Koepka, the biggest big-game hunter in golf, cared not for the critics; “ppl are always going to hate. Part of the world we live in with social media.” he tweeted. Rickie Fowler went with a preemptive post — “To the all lives matter comments…yes all lives do matter but all lives can’t matter until black lives matter too…we are ONE!” You can imagine how enlightened Fowler’s comment section was.
That negative blowback from a dedicated fanbase may inform some of the Tour’s decision making in voicing support for Black Lives Matter openly. Beyond that, the PGA Tour’s commitment to sponsors may also play a role in their messaging. Watching a Tour event can feel an awful lot like an infomercial for the core PGA Tour sponsors, complete with vapid CEO interviews and feel-good pieces about community involvement that chew into airtime. It can be tough for fans to get a shot in edgewise with all the backpatting. That said, 3M, the Minnesota company that sponsors the 3M Open, openly condemned police brutality and launched a $1,000,000 Social Justice Fund and called on lawmakers to address police misconduct.
The PGA Tour works alongside corporations like 3M to raise awareness and funds for important causes and charities. It’s a big part of their identity (it also bears mentioning that unlike the NFL, MLB, NBA or NASCAR, the Tour operates as a nonprofit.) A favorite social talking point for the PGA Tour is the work they do with The First Tee of America, an organization that introduces kids to the game of golf through nine core values to mold them into better citizens through the game of golf. Commissioner Monahan believes The First Tee “has made a massive difference” with regard to providing access to Black kids, while also noting the need to retain kids in the program. Often unmentioned in discussions surrounding The First Tee is the fact that only 14 percent of the kids who participate are Black. That’s not to accuse Monahan of virtue signaling, but rather to point out that not everything is as it seems. When the scope of the struggle is as big as it is today it’s hard to give points for junior golf camps.
On June 5, Commissioner Monahan sent out a memo to PGA Tour players and staff. In the memo he wrote, “I’ve often heard that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. What can I say? What should I do?” To the question of, “What can I say?,” I would urge the Commissioner to follow the lead of Commissioners Goodell, Silver and Manfred and say Black Lives Matter. Tweet it, print it, film it whatever — just say it. Leave no doubt that the Tour stands with those who seek to end the brutality and injustice that plagues Black people in America today. A brutality and injustice that, somehow, still in the year 2020, falls on them simply because they are Black.
Will there be blowback? Most definitely. Look no further than the predictable “Stick to golf” responses thrown at the game’s top players on #blackouttuesday. But this is no time to flinch, this is the time to take a stand. Until we all come to understand that the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t saying only Black Lives Matter, rather, it says Black lives deserve the dignity and justice provided to others, that negativity and ignorance will never go away. We will never heal.
Yes, there will be vitriol and hate. And with regard to those who don’t understand, who remain with their heads in the sand, who opt to deflect and deny, we’d do well to remember what Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” We would also be fools not to hear the late John Lewis who gave us these words: “Not one of us can rest, be happy, be at home, be at peace with ourselves, until we end hatred and division.”
Now isn’t just the time to sit and listen. Now is also the time to act, just as the other major sports have. A great and powerful step for Commissioner Monahan lies in three words: Black Lives Matter, because this is about what is good, decent and just, not about ignorance, hate and division.
Laz Versalles lives in Santa Monica, CA and writes about golf, healthcare and other topics of interest. Founding member of 288 Golf. Find him on Twitter @Laz_Versalles