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Augusta controversy won't die

With golf's Masters tournament a little more than a month away, two things are certain — CBS will telecast the event and there will be protests at the Augusta National Golf Club because of its refusal to admit women as members.

CBS president and CEO Les Moonves is clearly sick of the subject. "We televised a golf tournament. We're going to continue to televise a golf tournament, and that's all I'm going to say."

And he got support from Turner Sports president Mark Lazarus, who agreed that CBS should not take an advocacy position. "As a network, we are there to report the proceedings. We are not there to be part of the story."

At the same time, Lazarus said, "I think that Augusta should let women in."

Various sportscasters have more to say, although their opinions vary somewhat. TNT's ever-outspoken Charles Barkley opined that "golf has always been elitist. It's always been racist and that's unfortunate."

There's some agreement that, as a private club, Augusta is within its rights to exclude women, but that the club is stupid to do so.

"It's a private place. That's their thing," Barkley said.

"Constitutionally, they're protected," said radio host/ESPN personality Jim Rome. "Morally and ethically, it's backwards and wrong. And, frankly, it's not a fight they can win.

"(Augusta National chairman) Hootie (Johnson) and the good ol' boys can grind this thing out and fight all they want, but in the meantime they're tarnishing the club, they're tarnishing the event itself and it's going to hurt the sport. When the Masters rolls around and there's picketers and there's boycotts, it's not going to help anybody. I don't know why he doesn't just give in right now and accept that."

Not that any of them are expecting that to happen, even though they agree it should.

"I know nothing about golf, nothing about Augusta and even less about northern Georgia, but it is inconceivable to me why anyone would want to be a part of a club that does not have women in it," said ABC/ESPN sportscaster Bill Walton.

Rome didn't disagree, but he did say, "I would wonder why anybody would want to be a part of something where you're not welcome."

As to whether the golfers themselves should take a stand against Augusta's policies, there's disagreement about that as well.

Walton said golfers should boycott the Masters, pointing to the influence of role models like Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell "and how their stands in the '60s changed the world as we know it today. Where are those people today?"

Rome said "It's a matter of choice" each golfer should make, but agreed there is nobody today who "is willing to put their neck out."

"Not Tiger Woods. Not Michael Jordan. The question is — is it their job to do so? Or is it their job to play as well as they possibly can?"


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com