In 1966, CBS commentator Jack Whitaker referred to a patron gallery at Augusta National Golf Club as a “mob.” He was banned from ever covering the Masters again. In 1994, Gary McCord, another CBS broadcaster, remarked that the 17th green was running so fast as to have possibly been “bikini-waxed” prior to the day’s round. He followed this nana-appalling comment by suggesting that “body bags” were located behind the green for players who missed approach shots. At the request of the club, he has not returned to broadcast a single Masters since.
This is the legacy of irreverence at the Masters. The three terms: mob, bikini-waxed and body bags. Bold expressions, each and every one of them.
We were reminded of this on Friday when NBC’s Bob Costas, sports commentary’s Audrey Hepburn, visited Dan Patrick’s radio show and expressed a no uncertain amount of disapproval with CBS’s coverage of the Masters. Specifically, his disdain was aimed at the network completely ignoring Augusta’s long and sad history of discrimination.
What no CBS commentator has ever alluded to, even in passing, even during a rain delay, even when there was time to do so, is Augusta’s history of racism and sexism. Even when people were protesting just outside the grounds — forget about taking a side — never acknowledging it. So not only will I never work the Masters because I’m not at CBS, but I’d have to say something and then I would be ejected.
If the words “mob,” “bikini-waxed,” and “body bags” were enough to elicit lifelong bans, one can only imagine the hell-fire that might rain down upon an on-air personality mentioning that Augusta National Golf Club refused to admit African American members until 1990, that the club used to require all caddies to be black-skinned, or that it was less than a year ago that the club admitted its first two female members: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore. Yet, Costas expressed his hope that someone at the network would have the courage to remind us of the Augusta’s shameful and very recent past.
I think somebody should have had the guts to do it along the way. Broadcaster, executive, somebody should have said to someone at Augusta, ‘Look, this is an issue. And this is not ‘Nightline’ or ‘Meet The Press,’ we understand that. But this is an issue. And it’s an elephant in the room. And we’re going to address it as concisely as we can, but we’re going to address it so our heads are not in the collective sand trap.’
The first impulse for many of us will be to agree with Costas. The white-washing of the past has been proven to be one of the better methods for promoting hypocrisy in the future. The history of discrimination at Augusta is extensive, and its continuance well past the date when those in charge should have known better is disgraceful. Certainly, a failure to acknowledge the racist and sexist policies of the past is negligent on the part of the broadcast, as it fails to provide proper context for certain events. It shelters the audience from the full story.
However, the opinion of Costas might carry a bit more weight if other sports media outlets, those not tethered to a broadcast partnership with Augusta National, exhibited the slightest bit of willingness to articulate the more negative aspects of the golf club’s former policies. It’s maddening that the much-respected Costas would stoop to a level in which he criticizes an organization for willfully avoiding a subject that he, without the same handcuffs that the target of his scorn has upon them, has also avoided. If this is such an under-reported part of the event, why doesn’t Costas, who has more than enough authority as a sports journalist to do what he wants, report on it?
The idea that CBS deserves criticism for not offering unbiased coverage of the Masters poses an interesting question: Are sports more of a news event or a dramatic production?
This question came to the forefront on Saturday after it was revealed that during Friday’s round, Tiger Woods took a penalty drop on the 15th hole two yards behind the point where he had hit the original shot. This is a rules violation that should have cost him an additional stroke. After completing his round, Woods handed in his signed scorecard which included the penalty for the drop, but not for the replacement of the drop. Typically, an erroneous scorecard is punished by expulsion from the tournament. However, Woods only received a two-stroke penalty for his oversight.
Saturday afternoon’s broadcast on CBS dedicated an uninterrupted 12 minutes off the top to the decision. After opening with the world’s number one golfer on the sixth hole, Jim Nantz and company examined the ruling that cost Woods two strokes but allowed him to remain in the tournament, including an extensive interview with Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters’ competition committees. Apparently, there is more than one.
Nantz, in his analysis, was largely forgiving of Woods, calling it an “innocent mistake.” He offered support for the club’s ruling, and his broadcast booth partners, including three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo, followed suit.
If this had all happened later at night, if somebody had called in late at night and then had gone back and reviewed everything, then in fact Tiger would be disqualified. He would have signed for the wrong score. In a way, that helped him. They reviewed the situation, they decided from what they saw there was no infringement, but it was only after Tiger then said, “Hey, I intentionally came back a couple of yards.”
The commentary marked something of an about-face from Faldo who appeared on the Golf Channel earlier Saturday morning to suggest that Woods was in the wrong for not withdrawing himself from the tournament, even after the ruling allowed him to stay.
Tiger should really sit down and think about this and what it will leave on his legacy. Personally, I think this is dreadful.
Faldo’s comments echoed those of Brandel Chamblee, who also appeared on the Golf Channel, and was critical, not of the ruling, but of Woods for not removing himself from the competition.
The integrity of this sport is bigger than the desire to see Tiger Woods play golf today. I want to see Tiger Woods play golf. I have never seen anybody play golf like him. I want to see him make a run at Jack Nicklaus’ majors record. I want to see that. But I don’t want to see it this week; I don’t want to see it under these circumstances. The right thing to do here, for Tiger and for the game, is for Tiger to disqualify himself.
As much as we may want to once again point fingers at CBS for sugar-coating its coverage of the Masters, we should notice that even the outlets without official partnerships with the club were hesitant to express disapproval with Augusta, instead redirecting it toward the player on whose illegal actions they ruled. If one is of the mind that Tiger Woods did not deserve to be playing on Saturday because of a rule violation, the fault of that isn’t his to bear, but rather those who would allow him to continue.
Live sporting events require a tricky balancing act from broadcasters. It’s a spectacle dependent on presentation, and often the merits of that presentation are called into question by the priorities of the broadcasters. Is there a responsibility to give viewers the full story? Certainly. However, the dedication to providing proper context can sometimes interfere with the enhancement of the inherent drama. Which side to err on is probably most dependent on the content.
The coverage of the Masters on CBS is definitely on one side of this spectrum, but given the image of the tournament, branded as something mythical and elite, sugarcoating doesn’t seem as out of place as it might be if we were discussing a mixed martial arts event. It fits the content.
During the playoff round on Sunday, Nantz used the word “bravery” in reference to the final two competitors. Was it over the top? Definitely, but far less than it might have been for something else. In fact, Nantz’s entire style of commentary during the event is a marked departure from his other work calling NFL and NCAA basketball games. He understands, perhaps better than most, that not all events are created equally, and the attraction of each is unique. When it comes to the Masters, illusion and the “godding up” of happenings is par for the course.
Golf pun, suckas.