On the tee, hypocrisy

By Steve Woodward

Let me get this straight. The United States sends billions of dollars to the human rights wasteland of Saudi Arabia to import its oil, but an American professional golfer is disgraced after expressing an interest in leveraging the Saudi economy by way of a proposed Super League featuring the world’s elite golfers? 

American golf legend Phil Mickelson is being canceled as if he had been caught on video beating his wife and abusing the family pet because he suggested a certain attraction to this as yet still conceptual Saudi league, and amid his reasonable dissatisfaction with the lords of the PGA Tour. Why the indignation? Because Mickelson also acknowledged that the Saudis routinely violate human rights and murder innocent people.

Among his most vocal critics — after Mickelson’s remarks were released by the author of a forthcoming Mickelson biography — was Rory McIlroy of Ireland, a PGA Tour veteran who resides in the U.S. McIlory lashed out at his fellow competitor’s supposed nonchalance about Saudi authorities who routinely kill gay people as exposing Mickelson as “naive, selfish, egotistical and ignorant.” That about covers the character assassination spectrum.

Undoubtedly, negative reactions by McIlory and other players emboldened sponsors to drop Mickelson as if he had been exposing himself to children on a playground. KPMG. Callaway. Workday. See ya, Phil.

But who has called out McIlroy’s blatant hypocrisy? No one, apparently. In January McIlroy finished third in the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates, taking home north of $500,000 (excluding a hefty appearance fee, no doubt). It’s a wonder he was even willing to show up. Human Rights Watch identifies the UAE as a serial human rights abuser. The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to criticizing government officials. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Against this backdrop, tour professionals nonetheless typically include a stop at the Dubai Classic on their annual schedules.

Within the ladies’ ranks, LPGAers frequently play in the annual Shanghai Classic in China, a nation ruled under the iron fist of the Chinese Communist Party. The tournament was cancelled the past two years due to health concerns in a country where the Wuhan Virus was unleashed out of a lab that exists under the guise of research. In recent weeks, Beijing played host to the Olympic Winter Games, which went on without a hint of protest by American sponsors and TV rights holder NBC. Everyone who seeks to profit from turning their backs to China’s brutality toward dissidents and rural slaves seems to rationalize the tenuous relationships with ease. 

In China’s Xinjiang province, an estimated one million Turkic Muslims are detained in interment camps. This genocide has been ongoing since 2014.

Meanwhile, how many PGA Tour millionaires strut around wearing Nike golf attire and shoes made in China in partnership with a ruthless authoritarian government that manufactures the iconic “swoosh”-branded garb using what amounts to slave labor? 

It bears repeating that Nike athletes are paid millions of dollars to wear the brand before stepping foot on a golf course, or a basketball or tennis court. On the PGA Tour alone, there are numerous top players who are not perplexed by the Nike-China conundrum. Tiger Woods, of course, was Nike’s first golf star. But today, the roster includes elite players such as Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Francisco Molinari and Jason Day.

Oh, and Rory “The Pious” McIlroy. A few years ago he signed a 10-year Nike contract that will pay out around $200 million. 

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