Hank Haney’s insensitive and dreadfully short-sighted comments regarding the current state of women’s golf have gotten him suspended by SiriusXM and its partner.
The offending conversation with Steve Johnson when discussing this week’s U.S. Women’s Open:
Haney: “Oh it is? I’m gonna predict a Korean.”
Johnson, laughing: “OK, that’s a pretty safe bet.”
Haney: “I couldn’t name you six players on the LPGA Tour. Maybe I could. Well … I’d go with Lee. If I didn’t have to name a first name, I’d get a bunch of them right.”
Johnson: “We’ve got six Lees.”
The PGA Tour, which has its name on the channel, was part of the decision to suspend Haney, reports USA Today’s Christine Brennan:
“Mr. Haney’s comments on women’s professional golf were insensitive and do not represent the views of the PGA TOUR or SiriusXM,” the statement read. “The PGA TOUR is committed to and proud of the increasingly diverse makeup of our fan base, not to mention the power and accomplishments of the game’s world-class, global players – both on the PGA TOUR and LPGA, whom we are working with more closely than ever before.
“SiriusXM proudly covers and supports both women’s and men’s golf and the athletes that make them great. At the PGA TOUR’s instruction Mr. Haney has been suspended from the SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio channel. SiriusXM is reviewing his status on SiriusXM going forward.”
While I agree with and understand the outrage over Haney’s remarks, particularly from players in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at a terrific venue with strong fan support, I’m conflicted about the characterization and direction of the outrage that quickly turned to some very strong words.
One: in my dealings with Haney, few are more passionate about the game and seeing people of all ages, races and sex succeed. He wouldn’t have become a golf instructor otherwise. Hank Haney is not a racist or a sexist. Is he on too many hours talking about a sport where there is only so much one can discuss? Maybe.
Two: the flippant comment he made on his satellite radio show, which was in response by a remark from his co-host apparently referring to the number of women named Jeongeun Lee (there are six), is, one that I’ve heard mentioned hundreds of times over the years—including jokingly from Koreans or Korean-Americans—about the number of women with similar sounding names from Asian countries dominating the game. Sometimes it’s a compliment to the incredible depth and the devotion to craft by these women. Sometimes it’s not. This does not make Haney’s comment acceptable when expressed in condescending fashion and his disdain for the state of women’s golf may be tinged with some sexism, but the leap to racism seems like just that: a leap. I’d lean more toward ignorance of the LPGA Tour or international cultures than anything else.
Three: the LPGA currently lacks a dominating-star the same way the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and European Tour have also dealt with at times (and maybe even in the present). We happen to be in the midst of a parity era in women’s golf not long after eras dominated by epic star power from legends Se Ri Pak, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa. Fields are deep, maybe deeper than at any time in the modern era. And we have injuries to some star players too.
Of course, Haney didn’t mention all of this and that’s on him. But his problem is not one of race, sex or bigotry. We live a celebrity-obsessed, marketing-focused world demanding stars who play well all the time or else. Anything less breeds apathy. That’s a shame and ignorant of how cruel golf can be at times. But taking such a stance is also not racist or sexist.