I know Tara Sullivan a little bit. We have several of the same friends, and because of this we have gone to several dinners together. I like her very much. We have talked quite a lot about Springsteen and family and her father, who grew up with George Carlin. She's good company.
On Sunday, after the Masters ended, I found myself in a small pack of reporters chasing around the crumbled but proud figure that was Rory McIlroy. He had shot a miserable 80 and, after leading the Masters for three rounds, had dropped to 15th. He was very willing to talk -- I was so impressed with the way he handled himself -- but at Augusta National they make nothing easy so they had him talk for three minutes by the 18th green, then cut him off, then had him talk another two minutes by the clubhouse, cut him off, and finally they allowed him to speak another eight or nine minutes inside the clubhouse locker room. He was shocked and introspective, human and defiant, and I came away hoping he wins the next 10 majors.
In any case, as I was walking out I noticed that Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times was talking with Tara, giving her a few of the quotes. I did not think much of it. I drove to Atlanta.
One thing I DEFINITELY did not think in 2011 was that Tara needed the quotes because she had been barred from the locker room because she is a woman. But, alas, this is what happened. Apparently, this was because of a "misunderstanding."
My point in this post is not the sexist policies of the Augusta National ... I'm pretty sure there will be no movement in how people feel about those. But I should pause for a moment to say that "misunderstanding," seems the wrong word choice here. Restrictive clubs do not have misunderstandings. They have policies they hope nobody will challenge. They have neanderthal views they mostly cloak in public and happily and pompously share behind closed doors -- after those closed doors are locked. Yes, they make the rare exceptions to their restrictive policies to keep things legal -- women reporters ARE, in fact, supposed to be allowed in the locker rooms during the Masters; longtime golf writer Melanie Hauser has been there often. I suspect that memo doesn't always get circulated.
The Club, as is its legal right, is an openly and defiantly misogynistic club ... its members once broadcast the Masters without commercials rather than allow their beloved sponsors to face the wrath of fair-minded people who believe that maybe 90 or so years after women got the vote in this country, America's most beloved and sought after private golf club might consider inviting a woman or two to join in all its reindeer games.
I also have to admit I have a hard time building up much rage about the Augusta women membership issue. I don't want my daughters to face closed doors and glass ceilings in their life. That's one of the driving purposes of my life. On the other hand, I REALLY don't want them to be members of Augusta National. A ludicrously rich group of men will not invite a ludicrously rich woman to join their ludicrously exclusive club with its shameful history of denying anyone even slightly different? That's not in my world.
But this -- not allowing a woman to do her job because she's a woman? That is in my world. And excluding women is not a "misunderstanding" at Augusta. The word is laughable. Excluding women is a policy. It's an overriding theme of the place. Should the guard have known that women reporters during Masters week are an exception to that policy of no women allowed. I would hope so. Maybe she was told and forgot. Maybe not. But you know how they say it's always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. At Augusta National it's easier to bar women first and declare misunderstandings later.
But, again, revisiting Augusta National's close-mindedness is not my point here. No, my point is Tara, and the dignified way she handled this. And, more, some of the reaction to that. The comments. One of the touchstone issues of our era are the comments below stories you see on the Internet. They are sometimes vile, hateful, racist and sexist. They are sometimes mean-spirited, vicious, anonymous and cold-hearted. The are sometimes so crude and painful that you can't help but hope that you do not live next door to any of these people.
I can remember The Kansas City Star once writing a story about the employees who had been laid off because of the terrible new economics of the newspaper industry. These were my friends, many of them, good people who work hard and have families and didn't deserve that sort of terrible blow in their lives. Below the story was comment after comment from giddy, grotesque and anonymous people crowing that those people deserved to be fired because the Star is such a terrible newspaper. And my heart ached.
I'm not sure what it is about comments that can bring out such terrible words from people. Anonymity, maybe? The ease of typing? I must admit that I've watched in wonder the comments in this blog because they are almost always (and I mean 99.9%) well reasoned, thoughtful and overwhelmingly kind. I don't just say that because of the nice things people say about me, though I obviously appreciate those. Even when people disagree or don't like something, it's most often done in the spirit of generosity. When someone steps over a line, other commenters almost always step in and say we don't want that kind of viciousness here. We don't need it. Go comment somewhere else. And, surprisingly often, the angry commenter will step back, perhaps even apologize. People often ask me why I dedicate so much of myself to the writing on this blog, why I write my heart out for it, and the answer is too complicated to explain (maybe even too complicated for me to understand) but one of the core reasons are the commenters, your intelligence, your friendliness, your thoughtful points both for and against. As my Dad likes to say, "Boy do you have smart commenters." I feel lucky that we have our own little corner of the Internet.
But I also realize that it is a small corner. I almost never read the comments below stories anywhere else because they can depress me to the point where I don't want to leave the house.
Well, I read Tara's recap of the Augusta National saga. And the thing that struck me about it was its undeniable reasonableness. There was no shouting in it. No exclamation points. No Norma Rae sign holding. There was not even any anger, and she deserved some anger. You could tell, without even knowing Tara, that she wished more than anything that this hadn't happened. You could tell that she wanted nothing more than being allowed to do her job. You could tell by the simple way she explained what had happened.
She was in our group of reporters following Rory McIlroy into the locker room -- I did not see her, she was apparently in the back of the group. She was stopped by a female security guard and told she was not allowed in. Tara tried to explain that she needed to go in, that this was her job. She was told again no. She looked for a Masters official and could not find one. She did not make a scene. She did not start a fight. She simply waited outside and, as I saw, got the quotes from Bill Plaschke. Other reporters offered her the quotes as well.
Then she went back to her desk and tweeted this: "Bad enough no women members at Augusta. But not allowing me to join writers in locker room interview is just wrong."
That's all. A simple tweet. Tara was all so utterly reasonable that people around her want to be ANGRY FOR HER. In her recap, she gave Augusta National a full opportunity to apologize and call it a misunderstanding. And in fact when Augusta DID apologize, Tara broke away from her deadline story (she wrote a fine piece about McIlroy) and gave Augusta National two tweets.
In her wrap-up, she explained -- as she should not have to explain -- that barring a woman from doing her job in America is illegal (she didn't even get into it being immoral). She did not explain that there was nobody else in the locker room, and that McIlroy was only going in there to pick up some mail and things. She was not just fair in her recap, she was OVER THE EDGE fair, like a referee swallowing the whistle in the final minute of an NBA game. I don't see how there could be any reaction other than "Good on ya, Tara."
The second comment below her story asked if men are allowed in WNBA locker rooms (of course we are).
The third comment had the amazing sentence, "This nonsense about equality goes a little too far sometimes."
The seventh comment questioned why Tara wanted even more information, as if her reporter instincts were off.
The ninth comment appeared to be a word representing someone crying.
A comment from the much-beloved philosopher Shortbusdriver, makes the perfunctory point: "You got what you needed. End of discussion."
There you go. Shortbusdriver says, "End of discussion." That pretty much closes this thing out, right? Hey, Shortbusdriver said so. There are others like that, angrier and angrier as they go. And some of the comments, at least according to one commenter, were taken down. I can only imagine how bright those comments must have been.
I know that Tara has gotten a lot of support from people. I know many, many people have contacted her to stand with her. Still, I wonder sometimes what these comments say about the world where we live. I wonder how Shortbusdriver or anyone else would handle that sort of open, in your face discrimination ... being told openly that you are not worthy of the same rights as everyone else, you cannot do your job like everyone else, because, after all, you are a woman or black or Jewish or Catholic or blue eyed or Harrison Ford. I wonder because, hey, these people are this angry NOW ...
Last week, when Butler played VCU during the Final Four game, I happened to be sitting near a very loud Butler fan. And all game long he screamed at the officials. It was non-stop. "Where's the traveling call, ref? ... How could you miss that foul? ... That's over the back ... When are you going to call this thing fairly? ... Why won't you let them play? ... When are you going to make a call?" On and on and on and on. I've heard people yell at officials pretty much all my life, but I can never remember hearing anyone so determined.
At some point, I started to wonder what motivates someone like that. What could possibly keep him screaming? Is he unhappy with his life? Does he have terrible frustrations he needs to unload? Is he an amateur referee who simply cannot abide bad calls? As the game went on, it became clearer and clearer that Butler was going to win, but his anger to the referees never subsided. It never even diminished. In the last minute, with Butler up by nine, he was still yelling at the referees, just as loud, just as intently, with the same fury.
I was pretty close to going up to him to ask why he kept yelling. I was really interested. But I had work to do and anyway I suspect he wouldn't have given me much of an answer. He might have punched me in the face. He probably would have thought I was making fun of him. But I was really curious and I am really curious: What is it that drives people to be so angry? Maybe it's just the fog of the times. Maybe, in the end, we all just want to be heard.