Martha Burk and the Masters: Five years later, the sexism is more obvious than ever
The 2008 Masters will be the five-year anniversary of Martha Burk’s protest at Augusta National. And while the protest itself was small (two dozen or so people with twice as many police officers as protestors) it was effective. Because a light was shone on Augusta National and the Masters that cannot be extinguished. And that light has made the truth explicitly clear:
Augusta National is a sexist organization.
Those who would argue that Augusta National falls into the same category as the Girl Scouts are either intentionally ignorant or clueless. Augusta National is a not the Girl Scouts. It’s a society where some of the most powerful men in the U.S. congregate. Michael McCarthy and Erik Brady of USA Today summed it perfectly:
“Augusta National Golf Club is a golfing version of Yale’s Skull and Bones: a secret society of the well-heeled that answers to one. You don’t apply for membership. You get called — if you have the right combination of money, influence and friends.”
This is what Burk was speaking out against. She was speaking out against the massive corporate power congregated at Augusta National, all in male form, without a woman allowed.
Of course, speaking out in any way against the cultural norm is not for the weak of heart. And the way for Augusta, and a large part of the population, is that sexism is fine. For her efforts, she was railed against and called every name in the book.
In a telephone interview, Burk said while she was focused on her cause, she was also nervous about how rabid her opposition acted toward her.
“I had a lot of threats on my life, said Burk. “I had to have bodyguards, had to have a bulletproof vest.”
The FBI even had to come in to check incoming calls for a time after Burk received death threats.
Think of that. This is the United States. Free Speech and freedom to assemble are our greatest freedoms. But when an educated woman tried to assemble protesters at the Masters to bring attention to its sexist actions she was kept several hundred yards away from Augusta National and surrounded by police. During and after the protest she was called a heretic and much, much worse. And her life was threatened.
All because she had the nerve to stand up to a male-only club that panders exclusively to CEOs, politicians and the like. For speaking her mind, for making her valid point, Americans threatened to murder her.
And the PGA Tour was no help whatsoever. In 2003, a great combination of events hit Augusta National - a feminist took on the most sexist location of the nation’s most sexist game. And Commissioner Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour did their part to stand in front of Augusta’s hallowed gates, backing the sexism of the Georgia club to the hilt.
Because while the PGA Tour has explicit wording in its rules against discrimination of any kind among the courses in does business with, those in charge eagerly look the other way when it comes to Augusta National
“They’re all in bed together so to speak,” said Burk. “The PGA Tour is clearly breaking its bylaws. All they do is put an asterisk by Augusta National. These guys are a very tight group and they are not going to break ranks.”
But Burk is undeterred. Augusta National and its sexist policies were part of the bigger picture for which she has dedicate her life.
“We have always said it’s a bigger issue than Augusta National, it’s about how women are viewed and leaders taking the position that we are second class citizens,” wrote Burk in a comment to a blog post I wrote in 2006.
Burk was as correct then as she is now. And for anyone who feels comfortable in the belief that debate over the sexism at Augusta National has been squelched, you just aren’t aware of who and what you’re dealing with. Because this has, and will always be more than Martha Burk.
Look for an upcoming feature story on WorldGolf.com for more on my discussion with Burk.
Update: The WorldGolf.com feature story “Martha Burk’s fight against Augusta National’s all-male policy gaining momentum, she says” has been published. Click the title to read more about Martha Burk and her battle against Augusta National.
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Ms. Burke will go down in history, if she isn't ultimately forgotten, as nut-job.
Also, one thing that especially bothered me about this commentary: The PGA Tour does not put on the Masters. PGA Tour players are independent contractors and can make a personal decision on whether they would like to play, should they qualify or earn an invitation. The PGA Tour organization may choose or not to be supportive of Augusta's policies but the Tour itself does not host the tournament, promote the tournament or have any say in how the tournament is run. So I don't understand why Ms. Burk would say the Tour is breaking its bylaws. That's not true.
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