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If War, Cancel Burk
[March 18, 2003]

By S. M. Oliva

NCAA President Myles Brand announced this evening that college basketball's annual championships would proceed on schedule despite the pending U.S. war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In reaching his decision, Brand cited his consultations with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who reassured Brand that the tournament would not compromise increased domestic security efforts. The NCAA tournament began tonight with an opening round game in Dayton, Ohio, and will move to eight regional venues beginning on Thursday.

Brand's statement struck an appropriate tone: "I think we should be very careful not to let Saddam Hussein control our lives. We have to balance those. We have to show respect and concern for our men and women in uniform. At the same time, we also want to make sure we don't let our lives be taken over by a tyrant."

One person who doesn't share Brand's sentiments is Dr. Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women's Organizations and foe of Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the annual Masters tournament each April. Burk has spent the past year protesting Augusta National's lack of female members, and has long planned a protest in Augusta, Georgia, during this year's Masters.

Today's Washington Post carried the headline: "Burk: If War, Cancel Masters." According to Burk, conducting the Masters during wartime would be disrespectful to America's armed forces.

"To be down there partying in Augusta when the country is at war is unseemly," Burk told the Post. "If I were organizing it, I would consider postponing it just for the public image it would put forth. It is a money-lavishing activity. We would also be highlighting the public money through defense contractors that finds its way to Augusta National."

The reason Burk wants the Masters canceled is simple: If the tournament goes forward, Burk will be forced to protest her relatively trivial cause—Augusta's lack of just one female member-during wartime. She likely fears such an act would cause her credibility with the media. This concern is probably misplaced, however, given that it's the media that created Burk's cause in the first place.

From the outset, Burk's anti-Augusta campaign has been a buggy carried by the media's horse. The writer of today's Post story, Leonard Shapiro, is not coincidentally a chief architect of Burk's crusade. Shapiro repeatedly misreports facts to bolster Burk's position on Augusta. Shapiro has also created trouble for anyone who refuses to tow the line, such as Tiger Woods, by manufacturing controversy within the sports media's echo chamber. Last year, Woods was repeatedly hounded for refusing to take a stand against Augusta after Shapiro pestered the world's top golfer at the British Open.

Just a few weeks ago, Burk dodged a proverbial bullet when the New Yorker quoted her making a blatantly sexist remark about the difference between Augusta National's all-male membership and all-female groups:

"[W]hen men get together, denigrating women is often a part of the social interaction. When women get together, denigrating men is rarely done. It's just not even on the radar screen. Even among the so-called strident feminists of the women's movement. We don't have anything to hide in that way, and men seem to."

This remark should have terminated Burk's media credibility. It exposed her as an irrational sexist, whose motivation was less promoting women's rights than punishing a social club that personally offended her. Yet most reporters, Leonard Shapiro included, ignored the remark, instead dutifully reporting on Burk's looming Masters protest. At the same time, however, many anti-Augusta news outlets gleefully seized on a report that a lone white supremacist-claiming to be a "splinter" faction of the Ku Klux Klan-sought permission to protest against Burk and in favor of Augusta National. Many media pundits immediately called for Augusta National to give in to Burk's demands in order to repudiate the lone Klansman's cry for attention.

In other words, Martha Burk is not accountable for what she says, but Augusta National is accountable for things completely out of their control. It takes the double standard to a whole new level.

Double standards are the hallmark of sports media. Consider the plight of Tyronn Lue, the Washington Wizards point guard. Yesterday, reporters in search of cheap copy cornered Lue after practice and asked for his views on the looming war. Lue's answer, arguably inarticulate, managed to cause a minor firestorm among self-righteous media types:

"Man, I feel sorry for the people who have to go over there and fight the war...I feel sorry for their families and friends...We have a war to fight, too - the Washington Wizards are trying to make the playoffs."

The media line was to attack Lue for daring to compare war to basketball. A more charitable (and rational) reading of the remarks is that Lue basically said: The military has a job to do, and I have a job to do. In one sense, Lue was arguing the same message as Myles Brand. We don't let tyrants tell us how to live our lives.

Tyrants not only include dictators like Saddam Hussein, but also more garden-variety bullies, like Martha Burk and Leonard Shapiro. The message of any tyrant or thug is that one shouldn't live their own lives, but rather sacrifice their values and interests to some "greater" good—preferably one of the tyrant's choosing. But the founding idea of America is that individuals are inherently free to the "pursuit of happiness," meaning the ability to live one's life for his or her own sake. It is this idea which, hopefully, U.S. troops will carry into Iraq when the order to invade comes.

At this very moment, many of the women Martha Burk claims to represent are in uniform, preparing to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein's tyranny. These women are fighting not to protect Burk's efforts to engage in social engineering, but rather the ability of individuals-such as Augusta National's members-to live their lives in a nation that considers individual rights the organizing principle of a moral society.


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