PGA President Ouster in Growing Effort on Sexist Comments

Ousted PGA of America President Ted Bishop became the latest sports executive punished for making insensitive comments, reflecting a growing effort by sports associations to react decisively on sexist or racist remarks.

Bishop’s removal came one day after he referred to England’s Ian Poulter as a “little school girl squealing during recess,” and a week after a Russian tennis official was suspended for mocking Serena and Venus Williams as the “Williams brothers.”

Yet it also came only five months after Richard Scudamore, the head of English soccer’s Premier League, escaped punishment for sending private e-mails containing inappropriate language about women.

“There is less tolerance for racism and sexism, and so we see swifter and stricter reactions to new cases,” said Shawn Klein, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rockford University in Illinois. “The concern I have is that we are punishing with firings and fines but not really engaging the issues. If all that happens is Bishop gets fired, I am not sure that does a lot to move the needle forward on getting rid of sexism.”

NFL Fallout

The punishments of Bishop, 60, and Russian tennis federation head Shamil Tarpischev, 66, came as the National Football League continues to deal with fallout from its handling of domestic-abuse cases involving players.

And they came six months after the National Basketball Association forced Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after an audio tape was released of him making racist comments.

The PGA said Oct. 24 that Bishop was removed from office for making “insensitive gender-based statements.” Bishop, who had less than a month left in his two-year term as president, was replaced by vice president Derek Sprague until elections are held Nov. 22.

“We must demand of ourselves that we make golf both welcoming and inclusive to all who want to experience it, and everyone at the PGA of America must lead by example,” PGA Chief Executive Officer Pete Bevacqua said in a statement e-mailed by the organization.

Bishop’s removal comes as golf has been making an effort to be more inclusive and sensitive to women’s issues.

Historic Vote

Last month, the 260-year-old Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland voted to allow women as members. That decision came two years after Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the annual Masters Tournament, added former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a Rainwater Inc. financier, to its ranks, ending a decade of controversy over its all-male membership.

“The PGA of America’s quick and decisive action sent a strong message -- reinforcing a consistent belief that with so many positive gains being made among golf’s leading organizations, there is simply no room nor willingness to take a step backwards,” the Ladies Professional Golf Association said in a statement on its website.

Bishop criticized European PGA Tour player Poulter for comments he made about former Ryder Cup captains Tom Watson and Nick Faldo in a book, “No Limits: My Autobiography,” released last week.

Poulter, 38, who was a member of the European squad that defeated Watson’s U.S. team last month for its third straight Ryder Cup triumph, described Watson’s captaincy as “baffling.”

‘Highly Disrespectful’

He was critical of comments Faldo made last month on TV about Spain’s Sergio Garcia. Faldo, who was European captain in 2008, said Garcia “was useless” during that year’s Ryder Cup. Poulter said Faldo’s comments were “highly disrespectful.”

Bishop called Poulter a “lil girl” on Twitter, then continued his criticism on Facebook.

“Tom Watson (8 majors and a 10-3-1 Ryder Cup record) and Nick Faldo (6 majors and all-time Ryder Cup points leader) get bashed by Ian James Poulter,” Bishop wrote. “Really? Sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess. C’MON MAN!”

Bishop released a statement three days ago apologizing to Poulter and said, “If I had the chance to hit the delete button on the things that I sent out yesterday, I would without hesitation.”

Bishop, director of golf at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Indiana, said he declined the PGA’s request to resign as president, but that he accepted the organization’s vote “to impeach me.”

‘Drastic Consequences’

“The PGA has also informed me that I will not become the honorary president, nor will I ever be recognized as a past president in our association’s history,” he wrote. “These, along with the impeachment, are drastic consequences for the offense I have committed, but I must live with them.”

The 98-year-old PGA, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is made up of more than 27,000 golf professionals, about 1,100 of whom are women. The PGA Tour organizes men’s pro golf tournaments in North America.

Sprague, the director of golf at Malone Golf Club in northern New York, said PGA members “must uphold the highest standards and values of the profession, as well as the manner in which we conduct ourselves at all times.”

“We apologize to any individual or group that felt diminished, in any way, by this unacceptable incident,” Sprague said in a statement released by the PGA.

Tarpischev’s Comment

Tarpischev, a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1994, was suspended from any women’s tennis tour involvement for one year and fined the maximum $25,000 by the WTA tour on Oct. 19 after mocking the Williams sisters on a Russian talk show this month.

Serena Williams told reporters on Oct. 23 that Tarpischev, who earlier said the comments were taken out of contest, had apologized to the Williams sisters.

The Williams sisters, who many consider the greatest sibling team in the history of sports, have won a combined 25 Grand Slam singles championships.

Klein, who writes “The Sports Ethicist” blog, said in an e-mail interview that sports are getting better about reacting to insensitive comments.

“If these cases create real dialogue and a sustained shining of light on the problem areas, then I think real progress could come from these cases,” he said. “If all that happens are ‘blue-ribbon’ panels that window-dress the problems, then I am more skeptical about progress.”

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