David Adler: Golf world out of bounds with discrimination

July 25, 2013 

When the greatest golfers in the world gathered at the storied male-only club at Muirfield last week in pursuit of the British Open title, the staid, buttoned-up world of golf was confronted, yet again, with the lingering practice of gender discrimination.

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R & A, which conducts the Open Championship, hit it out of bounds when he declared that “there’s a massive difference between” gender discrimination and “racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, where sectors of society are downtrodden and treated very, very badly.”

Dawson is wrong, of course, and his “reasoning” defies the measurements of odious discrimination, including what the U.S. Supreme Court has held as indefensible: discrimination based on “accidents of birth.” Denial of opportunities to people based on their race and gender, among other grounds, constitutes the essence of invidious discrimination. That’s as true in the United States as it is in Scotland; indeed, it is a universal principle of human rights.

Dawson’s defense of the exclusion of women was shredded by some of the world’s champions. Geoff Ogilvy, a past U.S. Open champion from Australia, described the policy as “archaic.” South Africa’s Ernie Els, winner of both the U.S. and British opens, characterized the policy as “weird,” as Karen Crouse of The New York Times reported. After all, the Big Easy observed, “We’ve got presidents and prime ministers who are women. Should the Open be there?”

The condemnation by men of an exclusionary policy that discriminates against women is welcome news. Across the course of American history, men have been slow to come to the defense of equal rights for women, just as whites were slow to come to the defense of equal rights for African-Americans.

A greater, and perhaps more satisfying story, however, is found in the narrative of women helping women. In this cause, we can hear the trumpet sound of victory when we consider those heroines in the late 19th century who protested state laws that denied women access to contraceptives, which sapped their independence and resulted in health circumstances that shortened their lives. We hear it as well in the voices of the suffragettes who demanded the right to vote, and in those who marched in the 1960s for independence and equal rights.

Each of these historic movements reaffirmed the lesson that those who would seek change, in the workplace or the political arena, should combine forces to initiate it. That’s the lesson of empowerment.

It was two years ago that Crouse, the gifted and intrepid golf writer for The New York Times, announced at the conclusion of the Masters, held at Augusta National in Georgia, that she would refuse to return to cover the tournament until the male-only club opened its doors to women for admission.

Reporters usually report the news; they don’t often make it. Crouse’s courageous stand spawned a tornado in the world of golf. The venerable Times, to its credit, supported her. Augusta National removed the controversy when it admitted its first two females, one of which was Bush administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, two months before this year’s event.

Crouse, who will deliver a keynote address at a major conference on women and leadership hosted by Boise State University’s Andrus Center for Public Policy this September, recognized an injustice and illuminated it for the world to see. That’s a tried and true way of battling gender discrimination in America.

Adler is the director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, where he holds appointment as the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs. He also serves as adjunct professor of law for the University of Idaho’s College of Law, where he teaches courses on the Constitution and the Supreme Court. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the presidency.

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