The community that makes up the world of golf is largely conservative, white men over 50 years old. One member of that demographic, PGA Champions Tour player Kirk Triplett, became the first professional golfer to place a Black Lives Matter sticker on his golf bag a few weeks ago. He did so in the hopes of prompting some much needed discussion in our country with regard to race and justice.
“It doesn’t just have to come from the African-American side, right? It needs to come from all sides, so, hence the sticker,” Triplett said in a video posted by the PGA Champions Tour.
I called Triplett to ask about how recent events were affecting his family.
We spoke about the conversations he’s had with his children, specifically his youngest son who is African-American.
“I told him that if he gets pulled over by the police to do everything they ask you to do.” He paused and then continued, “The frightening thing to me is, I’m not even sure that is enough.” The concern in his voice was genuine and, as a father, it left me a little shook.
“George Floyd hit me pretty hard,” said Triplett. “For the first time, I felt what the African-American community felt.” Triplett kept digging and learning about other acts of violence by police against Black people. We talked about Atatiana Jefferson, a 28 year-old black woman shot and killed by Fort Worth Police officers in her home on October 12, 2019. Clearly, the murder affected Triplett. “I understood what the word ‘systemic’ meant,” he told me.
Systemic racism isn’t just a problem for Black people, it’s a problem for all Americans.
“I went to Google and searched, ‘What can a white guy do?’ and there are websites with information.” After thinking about it for a few weeks, Triplett decided to put the Black Lives Matter sticker on his golf bag in the hopes of raising awareness for issues that need every American’s attention, particularly the bubble of the golf world.
Let me be clear: saying Black Lives Matter or putting a BLM sticker on your golf bag doesn’t make you a card-carrying member of the Black Lives Matter organization. It simply means you understand that Black lives have the same value as white lives and deserve the same dignity. It means you understand that a large segment of our population has been denied, mistreated and have lived as second-class citizens for far too long. It means you want to make things better for those who have been maligned for centuries. It means you believe that all of us are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Sound familiar? If so, I think we can have a civil conversation about this because we are all truly in this together.
Supporting Black Lives Matter does not mean you support burning and looting. It does not make you anti-family. It does not make you a Marxist ideologically. Distilled in its purest form, it means you see injustice and you want to be a part of making things better. That’s what Black Lives Matter is about. Not Marxism. Not violence. Not destruction of the nuclear family, as the distraction-creating fear mongers on the news would have you believe.
As a history buff, I don’t mind telling people that there is a tremendous amount at stake in our country right now. We are hurt, scared, confused, and seemingly losing our sense of decency at a time when we most need to be civil and decent towards one another. I’m writing this essay in the hopes that we can have the conversations that need to happen.
You’ll hear a lot of conservatives who reject the shortcomings of our nation say “all lives matter” which, simply put, is extremely obtuse and bordering on offensive. A common illustration of how misguided it is to say all lives matter is ‘the dinner party’ analogy. Imagine you’re at a dinner party and everyone sitting at the table is served dinner but your plate is bare, so you say, “Excuse me, but I should have dinner, too” and the host says, “Everyone should have dinner.” Meanwhile, your plate remains bare. The promise of The Constitution hasn’t come to fruition yet for Black people in America who continue to be objectified and dehumanized on body cams all across our country.
Another more golf-adjacent analogy was recently made by a close friend of mine. He told me about Lake Merced in San Francisco. Years ago, Sandy Tatum saw that one course on Lake Merced was hurting, neglected and lost. It was not SFGC, Olympic Golf Club or Lake Merced Golf Course. It was Harding Park, and getting Harding back on its feet mattered to Sandy Tatum. It mattered to Charles Schwab. It mattered to Grant Spaeth. It mattered to countless liberals and conservatives in San Francisco that happened to be golfers and members at the best clubs in the world. But that didn’t stop them from recognizing that something could be done to uplift the downtrodden Harding Park. Today, largely because those rich, white, conservative men saw that Harding Park mattered, the course is a glorious example of what happens when people see with not only their eyes, but also their hearts and do what is right.
Another common rejection is the “colorblind” position. You’ve heard it before, “In our family we don’t see color.” This sounds great but it’s complete bullshit. To pretend you don’t see color means you choose to not see the differences in white America and Black America. You choose to not know about how the justice system is very different for Black people than it is for white people. You reject the shortcomings of our schools in Black communities. You deny that Black women are treated far differently than white women in hospitals and that Black babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday. In short, you choose to turn and look away from these issues and we need to talk about them and their root causes. To be colorblind in America in the year 2020 is to have your head buried so deep in the sand, not even Patrick Reed could help you out.
We need to have conversations in this country that revolve around racial injustice and mistreatment. Golf isn’t immune from these discussions because exclusion has long been a part of the culture of golf, just as redlining, segregation, Jim Crow and slavery have always been a part of American History.
We can no longer wait. Too much is at risk. Our country needs to look to the corporate and institutional leaders who, in many ways, shape the culture we live in to bring justice to all of our citizens. Leaders who sit in the locker rooms of our finest clubs and our most exclusive institutions need to contemplate one fundamental question; do they believe that all of us have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
No more virtue signalling. Whataboutism is no longer an option. Your concern for fully insured commercial buildings in neighborhoods you’ve never been to no longer keep you out of the discussion. We need all hands on deck, especially our leaders, and we need them now. Let us all remember the words of Christopher Hitchens who said “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”
You don’t have to be Jewish to be against anti-Semitism. You don’t need to be Black to talk about racial injustice in our country. But it’s high time we recognize the lack of justice and decency in our country and the need for that to change. Triplett has had some important and uncomfortable discussions with his son about race and justice. He’s asking the conservative, white-dominated golf community to have some of those discussions now.