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OUT OF THE CLOSET, SWINGING

If Dr. Kevorkian isn't doing anything this week, he might want to drop by CBS headquarters and apply his skills to everyone in the place.

When last we looked, for instance, smug Dan Rather was still glued to his chair, dispensing the usual mixture of lame Texas aphorism and lofty ego that has catapulted the CBS Evening News all the way up to--let's see here--third place in the network ratings.

On the other hand, Rather's co-anchorperson, Connie Chung--an absolute panther when it comes to nailing down those crucial Tonya Harding interviews--will soon be peddling her hairdo elsewhere. Not to worry, Con. There will always be a place for you chatting up fourth-grade-gym-teachers-who-kill on the Maury Povich Show. Failing that, you could serve as press secretary to Newt Gingrich.

Meanwhile, CBS's crack sports division--which turned major-league baseball coverage into a sometime thing, like cricket or dogsled racing, then lost its choice NFL contract after thirty years to Bart Simpson's outfit--these people were still kissing Ben Wright's derriere.

You don't have to play golf to know that Wright has been CBS's designated Englishman for more than twenty years. Every network that carries golf must have its own Englishman, because the game started over there and because the yellow-trousered, linen-blazered, Cadillac-driving, three-martini-swilling white males who make up the most prized portion of golf's American viewing audience also seem to be stone Anglophiles. Show these guys a slab of overcooked roast beef, a shackled IRA man or the fourteenth green at St. Andrews, and they are in absolute heaven.

Show 'em Ben Wright and they believe they're in the presence of a certain polished style--and the font of history.

No one talks about it, but the subtext of Big Ben's affected diction, his ruddy face, his vaguely sniffy manner, is a kind of crypto-snobbism. In a few quiet, calculated words broadcast on Sunday afternoons, he recalls the entirety of the game's country-club origins, its veiled exclusions, its secret-society manners. Ben Wright declaiming on a "cracking seven-iron struck by Tom Watson at the seventh hole" says nothing about the indignities suffered by "Super Mex" Lee Trevino early in his pro career, or the snickers heaped on formidable Laura Davies when she strides up the eighteenth fairway, or the sidelong looks young, black Tiger Woods will get for years down in magnolia-scented Augusta.

No, Wright speaks for golf's white, male, monarchic ancien regime, which is not very different from its current regime.

That's why two weeks ago some of us were expecting that a fed-up lesbian from the LPGA Tour--any fed-up lesbian from the LPGA Tour--would suddenly come flying out of the closet and knock Ben Wright colder than English toast, physically or verbally. No one did.

As you know by now, what happened instead is that the CBS commentator got in the rough with his employers for about five minutes after a newspaper in Wilmington, Delaware, printed some of his incendiary comments on women's professional golf.

To wit: "Women [golfers] are handicapped by having boobs. It's not easy for them to keep their left arm straight, and that's one of the tenets of the game. Their boobs get in the way."

To wit: "Let's face facts. Lesbians in the sport hurt women's golf. [Lesbianism] is not reticent. It's paraded. There's a defiance in them in the last decade...[The LPGA Tour] is a butch game, and that furthers the bad image of the game. When it gets to the corporate level, that's not going to fly."

By contrast, Wright had no trouble flying an alibi right past the corporate level at CBS. When his bosses recalled him from the McDonald's LPGA Championship for a chat, he told them that the newspaper story, reported and written by Valerie Helmbreck in the Wilmington News Journal, was a fabrication. That was good enough for CBS, and Wright returned to his post in Wilmington almost before the caddies had time to clean the grass stains off their employers' three-irons. Meanwhile, Helmbreck stood by her story; her paper stood by her.

But the fact remains: If some minority group other than lesbians or women golfers had been the target of Wright's comments, he would probably be doing five to ten in San Quentin by now. When front office man Al Campanis, late of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, said some stupid things a few years ago about the supposed physical strengths and weaknesses of black athletes, he was quickly fired. When the late Howard Cosell, who, for all his faults, had never been accused by anyone of racism, made his infamous "Look at that little monkey run" gaffe on ABC's Monday Night Football, the heat came fast and furious, and Cosell's TV career soon went down the tubes.

Indeed, when Wright's own CBS colleague, Gary McCord, let fly last year with a couple of comments about the sacred Masters that offended the sensitive souls down at Augusta National, CBS axed McCord from its telecast quicker than Tommy Bolt's temper.

Apparently, though, in CBS's eyes there was nothing wrong with Mr. Wright that a little time and on-air, morale-boosting visits to the TV booth by LPGA star Nancy Lopez and another player couldn't fix. In fact, it was Helmbreck, a reporter with twelve years' experience, who was quickly cast as the villain of the piece--by Wright, by the network, by many of the players themselves. Foolishly, Helmbreck failed to tape-record her interview with Wright, which would have presented evidence a lot faster than the lawyers in the O.J. case. She relied on her written notes instead.

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