It’s been seven years since Hank Haney rendered himself a fringe voice on the PGA Tour by writing a tell-all book about working with Tiger Woods, and that diminished stature explains the enthusiasm with which so many critics rounded on him after his racially-charged and sexist comments about women’s golf and Asian players on his radio show.
Haney is not the first man, nor even the most prominent, to stain the game with imbecilic guff about race and gender. But the eagerness with which he was publicly denounced — even Woods offered an uncharacteristically terse rebuttal — served to highlight the timorous inconsistency with which our sport tackles third-rail topics, and proved how easy it is to stand on principle against someone with no power and no defenders.
Remember Ted Bishop? His haughty demeanor ensured he had few allies when the knives came out for him at the PGA of America in 2014 over his “lil girl” gibe. Bishop was going back to his pro shop in Indiana. Haney was already an outcast. The risk in criticizing either man was zero.
This week we witnessed a striking disparity in how the PGA Tour handled Haney – who is not one of its members – versus previous offenses by high-profile, dues-paying players. The Tour, which guards internal discipline like state secrets, demanded a swift and public sanction of Haney from its broadcast partner, SiriusXM.
“The PGA Tour is committed to and proud of the increasingly diverse makeup of our fan base,” a statement read. “At the PGA Tour’s instruction Mr. Haney has been suspended from the SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio channel.”
Concern for diversity, transparency and decisive action wasn’t as apparent a few years ago when Patrick Reed berated himself as a “f****** faggot” on live television after missing a putt. Or when Sergio Garcia joked about serving Woods fried chicken. Or when Ian Poulter tweeted the anti-Semitic slur “yids.” (That Poulter’s subsequent tweet apologizing was riddled with spelling errors at least confirmed it was authored by him and not his management).
A similar indictment can be leveled against the LPGA Tour, which wasn’t as sensitive to anti-Asian racism a decade ago when it announced plans to suspend foreign players who didn’t learn English. The LPGA hastily backtracked in the face of widespread criticism, but the proposed policy had its share of supporters among the players.
There was no shortage of LPGA professionals willing to call out Haney this week. They should be applauded for doing so. But they ought to have been equally forthright in speaking out against misogyny and racism two summers ago when they were contesting the U.S. Women’s Open at Donald Trump’s course in New Jersey. But the players then were almost entirely mute.
By comparison, the response to Haney smacks of opportunism, a willingness to speak out only when there is no price for doing so. Castigating a semi-retired shock jock carries no risk. But if you’re going to defend the values of equality and common decency, then do so against everyone who violates them, rather than calibrating your response based on the stature or influence of the offending party.
The only predictably consistent response when these issues erupt comes in the grimier precincts of social media from slobbering broflakes who, to borrow the biting words of Molly Ivins, don’t know that harass is one word.
Haney is no victim here. His comments were insensitive, ill-judged, ignorant— choose your own adjective. But it’s a leap to flatly state, as many have, that he is an outright racist. That’s a charge requiring more evidence than his boneheaded remarks offer. And while his breezy dismissal of the LPGA Tour hardly recommends him as worthy of pontificating on the sport for two hours daily on radio, nor is it a capital crime. He’s not alone in having a myopic view of golf that is centered on the PGA Tour. But such shadings are often ignored when the social media firing squad is stampeding to load its muskets.
With the suspension, Haney has been fairly called to account. Let’s hope the many voices raised against him will be equally vociferous the next time offensive comments come from a more formidable and popular quarter.