Opinion: Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player shame golf by accepting Medal of Freedom from Trump
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to never accept defeat, then watched as hundreds of them stormed the U.S. Capitol and rampaged through the halls of Congress, later saying, “We love you, you’re very special” to those involved in the deadly and appalling attack.
On Thursday, Hall of Fame golfers Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player stood with Trump at the White House to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom. They likely were the first outsiders to be with Trump at the White House since the reprehensible violence just 16 blocks away.
Sorenstam and Player, widely regarded as paragons of sportsmanship and honor in their game, did not cancel on Trump. They did not note the horror that had taken place on his watch and decide that Thursday wasn’t an appropriate time to celebrate with him at the White House. They did not care about the gravity of the situation, about the calls from political leaders to remove Trump by impeachment or the 25th Amendment.
No. They willingly chose to accept an award from Trump and be seen with him a day after his words and actions launched one of the most shameful incidents in U.S. history.
Annika Sorenstam, now 50, is known as a trailblazer within golf. (Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack, AP)
There will be those who say Sorenstam, who was born in Sweden, and Player, from South Africa, can choose to accept an award from Trump whenever they wish. That is true. What’s more, Sorenstam was an ardent supporter of Trump’s failed re-election bid, retweeting Jack Nicklaus’ multi-paragraph endorsement of Trump in the days before the 2020 election.
But Sorenstam and Player don’t just represent themselves. They represent all of golf, a mostly lily-white sport that has struggled for decades, to its continuing detriment, to attract women and people of color – just as Trump, a creature of the game, has denigrated those very same people.
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As representatives of their game, and as business people who benefit greatly from it, their reputations are sullied, forever. Sorenstam and Player now will be attached to Trump at this horrible time in our nation’s history, forever. They will be known as the people who had the chance to gracefully suggest another day might be better to celebrate golfers in this nation – golfers, for heaven’s sake – and they refused to do so.
They had nothing to do with the insurrection of the Trump mob on Wednesday, of course, but they happily became Trump’s Thursday accessories. They celebrated with him as our nation mourns what he has wrought.
A third golfer, the late Babe Didrikson Zaharias, also was honored by Trump. This is just a guess, but it’s hard to believe the strong, legendary, groundbreaking Babe would have allowed herself to have anything to do with that awful man.
While Player, 85, who once supported his nation’s racist policy of apartheid before later denouncing it, is an understandable Trump ally, Sorenstam’s involvement with Trump is perplexing. She is one of the greatest women to ever play the game. Now 50, Sorenstam is known as a trailblazer for playing in a men’s PGA Tour event, the Colonial, in 2003, enduring sexist taunts from a couple of male players while drawing huge crowds and acquitting herself quite well before missing the cut.
When she retweeted Nicklaus’ endorsement of Trump, I texted her a question:
“How do you reconcile Trump’s awful record on women – bragging and joking about sexually assaulting women ("Access Hollywood" tape), calling the Democratic VP nominee a 'monster,' being accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment by at least 26 women, etc. – while being a woman who has forged an amazing career around the issues of inclusion for women and treating women equally and fairly and with respect?”
She never replied. On Thursday afternoon, I texted again, this time to say I’d like to talk to her about accepting the Medal of Freedom a day after the awful rampage of Trump supporters at the Capitol. She did not reply.
It turns out that the ceremony for Sorenstam and Player was not open to the press. There were no photos immediately available. The event was basically held in secret.
Actually, it was held in shame.
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