<
>

If Burk bothers you, truth shouldn't

4/8/2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Here is the best defense for Martha Burk: She is still right. If she has swarmed your sensibilities and paraded intrusively through your morning papers and evening news, she is still right. If the sound of her voice has turned to nails scraping sandpaper for your ears, she is still right. If her invoking the females fighting for the United States in Iraq for her cause, well, please, please understand: Yes, Martha Burk is a pain in the ass.

But she is still right.

She is still on the right side of the issue, insisting a symbolic national institution hosting a world-class sporting event has a responsibility to leave the dark ages and include women in its membership.

Sure, she has lost steam on her push toward a wild week at The Masters, her words on Iraq delivering a public relations victory for Hootie Johnson, the way the KKK coming to his defense had done for her cause. Still, she has won this struggle because there is this struggle. Just a year ago, nobody had ever heard of Burk, just like people probably didn't know there was a completely male country club.

This debate has worn everyone out, but it's been good. It isn't as important that Burk breaks the will of Augusta National and gets a female member through the doors as it has been the discussion born out of it. Remember something: Hootie Johnson turned this fight public. She wrote a private letter that caused Johnson's needless proclamation that Augusta National was never, ever going to let outside influences dictate club policy.

Nobody ever would've listened to Burk unless Hootie gave them a reason. She would've been one more voice in the wilderness, writing letters to club members and television executives that no one ever read, one more voice calling news conferences that nobody ever staffed. The club's policy didn't just ask for this fight, but set the ground rules for it.

Augusta National has no history of doing the right thing on social issues, all the way back to integration. As this story refuses to go away, the green jackets will eventually back down. Whatever Johnson tries to tell people, the word filtering out of his membership's more progressive CEO types is that they clearly want this policy to change.

Calling on Boy and Girl Scouts, fraternities and sororities by Johnson as legitimate comparisons for the most influential corporate officials and powerbrokers in America to host the most important golf tournament without women? This isn't a neighborhood poker game, or a stamp club. If you want to have just the boys at those places -- or just the girls -- of course you can. And should. As long as Augusta National hosts The Masters, they have a larger responsibility.

"Scouts don't hold a world-class sporting event that attracts millions of
dollars," Burk said. "They are boys and girls selling cookies and working for
merit badges. They don't do world-class deals on the greens. His comparisons are just silly."

Nobody should have to tap toes and wait on the hard-line, old guard of Augusta National to fade into the sunset. Everyone should count on inclusion to come to a speedy resolution, not the club's old-world discriminatory practices. Again, there are younger, fair-minded Augusta National members with a belief that this isn't just morally bankrupt policy, but a public relations fight they can never win. The bottom line: The people pushing to keep the first female out of Augusta National now were probably pushing to keep African-Americans out of there until 1990.

And 13 years ago, the threat was real: Integrate or lose The Masters as a major. There is no such threat now. Sex discrimination is far more acceptable than racial discrimination. One woman at Augusta National is not going to change the world, but this was never the intention. As much as anything, this fight is a tribute to the importance of The Masters, the stature of Augusta National Golf Club. It's an institution that ought to belong to everyone. If the messenger still bothers you, that truth shouldn't.

"When a woman walked through the doors at the University of Mississippi,
people said the same thing they're saying now: 'She is a token,' " Martha Burk said. "The first person through is going to be a token, but it doesn't matter. That token has to go through the door to open it for others."

If it takes Martha Burk to do it, get over it.

She's still right.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.