Feinstein: It Takes Courage For Athletes To Speak Up Knowing They’ll Be Attacked

Last week, Brittany Lincicome, who has played on the LPGA Tour for 12 years, winning seven times, was asked by a Chicago Tribune reporter how she felt about the possibility of President Donald Trump showing up this week at the U.S. Women’s Open.

The question was asked because the golf course chosen by the USGA for the Open is Trump-owned and there had been reports that he was planning to make an appearance at the event.

This was Lincicome’s answer: “Hopefully, maybe he doesn’t show up and it won’t be a big debacle and it will be about us, not him.”

She went on to say she’d met Trump once and she thought everything would work out just fine in the end.

Lincicome wasn’t attacking Trump, she was simply saying that if he didn’t come to the championship there was a better chance that the focus would stay on golf rather than politics. Anyone who has ever attended any event that involves the president — ANY president — knows what a logistical nightmare it is for everyone involved.

I have been at events involving every president since Jimmy Carter and it’s always the same: the Secret Service has one mission: keep the president completely out of harm’s way. They could honestly not care less how that affects everyone else in attendance.

Almost before the words were out of her mouth, Lincicome was being attacked by, among others, John Daly, who tweeted something about how much it bothered him that someone would ‘take down’ his good friend, Trump. Others blasted Lincicome with the usual, ‘stay out of politics,’ bleats, and others just flat out attacked her for daring to say something bad about the president.

Lincicome’s response was to say she planned to stay off social media this week in order to try to focus on golf. Then, early in the week, it became apparent that the players had been given marching orders to completely steer clear of ANY questions regarding Trump or politics.

“We’re just here to play golf,” was the oft-repeated phrase.

“I take my role as a female role model very seriously,” Michelle Wie, a past Open champion, said. “But this week is about golf.”

Except it isn’t JUST about golf. The USGA made sure of that when it decided not to move the championship after Trump ran for President and in the wake of the comments he was caught on tape making about women that outraged many people.

And so, even though USGA executive director Mike Davis said in May, “We refuse to cross the line from golf into politics,” the fact is that politics crossed the line into golf as soon as Trump was elected.

On Wednesday, I commented on this in one of my CBS Sports Minutes, KNOWING I would get pilloried from the right even though I said the players should be willing to express their opinions whether pro-Trump or anti-Trump.

What’s more, if there’s any group of athletes likely to come down on Trump’s side it would be golfers – probably more on the men’s tour than the women’s tour – but nevertheless, there are bound to be some on the women’s tour who are pro-Trump. Naturally, the tweets I got — many profane — were from people screaming that athletes shouldn’t be involved in politics.

And then there was the host of a golf radio show who insisted that the talk about Trump was being driven by a handful of reporters. Perhaps. Those reporters were doing their job asking questions that should be asked.

Whether you love him or can’t stand him, there’s no arguing with the fact that Trump is a polarizing figure and the USGA holding the women’s Open — ESPECIALLY the women’s Open — at a Trump-owned course brings up questions that must be asked—whether the players answer them or not.

Funny, isn’t it, that when John Daly comes out in support of this President or Bob Knight shows up at rallies for him, no one on the right says they should stay out of politics. But when athletes take positions on the left — whether they be Colin Kapernick or the four superstars who gave the ESPY’s a rare moment to be proud of a year ago by discussing the need for athletes to become more involved in the real world — the right doesn’t want to hear about it.

When they say, “Don’t mix politics with sports,” what they’re really saying is, “Don’t mix politics with sports unless you agree with me politically.”

I happen to believe athletes, whether they be on the left or on the right, have an obligation to take an interest in politics and in specific causes.

Why? Because they are given a platform that can be used to do good —whether through charity work; through taking up a specific cause or by speaking out when, to quote Edward M. Kennedy speaking of his brother Robert, (they) “see wrong and try to right it.”

Never was this more evident than when Dean Smith asked Michael Jordan to campaign in North Carolina for Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who was running for the U.S. Senate against Jesse Helms, one of the senate’s last segregationists. Jordan refused. When Smith asked him why, he reportedly answered, “Because Republicans buy shoes too.”

Arthur Ashe was a three-time major champion, the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the modern era. Ashe was outspoken on many issues; was arrested for taking part in peaceful protests on more than one occasion and died as one of the most respected athletes who ever lived. Jordan is respected and admired as a great athlete. Ashe is respected and admired as a great man.

So are Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali — both of whom were castigated by much of white America when they were in their primes. Robinson’s crime was being black in what had been strictly a white man’s game. Ali’s was being a Black Muslim and refusing to go to war.

Athletes are constantly told by their agents to avoid controversy; to praise sponsors and teammates and coaches and — did I mention? —sponsors. Nowadays, most of them have corporate logos plastered all over their clothing (or their race cars, golf bags or racquet bags).

In recent years there have been some signs of athletes shaking the corporate/Jordan malaise. LeBron James has certainly been outspoken on many issues and joined Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade — all dressed in black suits — on stages at the ESPYs in 2016 to speak out on the need for everyone to do more about gun violence, racial injustice and police brutality.

Two of the names they invoked as great leaders that night were Tommie Smith and John Carlos, for taking the black-gloved stand they took against racism on the medal podium at Mexico City in 1968. Smith and Carlos were thrown out of the so-called, “Olympic movement,” a day later with people like Brent Musburger — then a Chicago Sun-Times columnist – attacking them for bringing race and politics into sports.

Very little has changed since then. Those who bring politics or race or women’s issues or LGBT issues into sports are almost instantly attacked.

Lincicome didn’t even take a political position and she was set upon on social media. There’s no doubt if someone playing in the women’s U.S. Open stood up this week and said, “This is wrong. We shouldn’t be playing on this golf course given the record of the owner on women and women’s issues,” she would be visciously attacked by many and told to just shut up and play golf.

But you know what? Twenty, 30, 40 years from now, far more people would remember her than whoever wins the tournament this week. It takes courage to speak up, especially when there’s a mob ready to jump on you the minute that you do.

We need more athletes — not less — who are willing to take that chance.

John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book, “The Legends Club—Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and an Epic College basketball rivalry,” spent eight months on New York Times bestseller lists—in both hardcover and paperback. His new book, “The First Major,–The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,”—will be published in October. Kirkus Reviews, in the first pre-publication review of the book said: “Golf fans love John Feinstein’s golf books because he is trusted by the players and thus can give inside information no other journalist can capture. Plus, he has a flair for telling a great story.”

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