PD Editorial: Sports returned but left women out

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Sports fans had a brief respite on Sunday when four professional golfers teed off to raise money for COVID-19 relief. It was a welcome first step away from all sports being shut down, but it also was a missed opportunity. The event should have included some women golfers.

TaylorMade’s Driving Relief skins game was fun to watch. It featured three of the world’s top male golfers in Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler as well as big- hitting newcomer Matthew Wolff. It was a two-on-two competition, with money potentially won on every hole for charity. The players wore shorts, carried their own bags and looked like any other foursome might on a hot Florida day.

The event also highlighted social distancing. The players didn’t have their usual caddies, and they kept 6 feet apart from each other. There were no fans. One official handled all the pins — though they just could have left them in like the regular golfers these days. That such sensible precautions can be implemented is why golf courses never closed in some states and were among the first places to reopen in others, including in California.

TaylorMade, a golf equipment manufacturer headquartered in Carlsbad, chose four of its sponsored players for the event. Four men. That didn’t go unnoticed.

“Yet again, today we show the disparity between men’s and women’s golf,” wrote LPGA golfer Mel Reid on Twitter. “Today’s charity event should showcase ‘golf’ not just men’s golf. What an opportunity golf has let slip, once again, to represent equality.”

She’s right. Professional golf and TaylorMade should have made the only sporting event on television an inclusive one. We doubt organizers consciously chose to exclude women. Rather, they probably never even thought about it.

Women’s sports too often are an afterthought, deemed somehow lesser than men’s sports. Tell that to the millions of American girls who play soccer and the millions of more fans who cheered the U.S. women’s soccer team to a World Cup victory last year. And anyone who didn’t watch the final day of the 2019 Solheim Cup, which pitted American women golfers against Europeans, missed some of the most compelling televised sports of the year. Lesser than men’s sports? Hardly.

Sports hold a special place in the world because athletes are role models. Young people look up to them, and adults see what humans can accomplish with physical gifts and training. Sometimes athletes let us down, but more often they don’t. Both men and women, girls and boys deserve to have athletic role models with whom they can identify. The pinnacle of athleticism is not restricted to men.

TaylorMade easily could have made the Driving Relief event co-ed. The company sponsors women golfers, too. This wasn’t a formal tour event but an exhibition that could have had two-coed teams compete instead of two men’s teams. How much more interesting it might have been to see two different styles of play.

The match raised $5.5 million for COVID-19 relief. It also could have raised the bar for equality in sports. Women athletes deserve the same respect for their accomplishments, but that won’t happen as long as the organizers and broadcasters of marquis events don’t include women.

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