Ben Wright’s 23-year career as a golf analyst for CBS Sports will continue despite inflammatory quotes attributed to him - and denied by him - in a newspaper here Friday that included his saying “lesbians in the sport hurt women’s golf.”
Wright, 62, was summoned from the McDonald’s LPGA Championship at Wilmington’s DuPont Country Club early Friday to meet with network executives and explain his comments in Friday’s editions of the Wilmington News Journal.
After a 2-hour meeting at CBS headquarters in Manhattan with CBS Sports president David Kenin and other network officials, CBS announced Wright would be back on the air today doing analysis.
In a statement issued by the network, Kenin said he conducted his own investigation into Wright’s alleged comments. “I believe that Mr. Wright made no statements that were disparaging or otherwise offensive to gays or lesbians or the LPGA,” said Kenin, who added that Wright and CBS Sports have “been done a grave injustice in this matter.”
In Wilmington, News Journal assistant managing editor Jerry Buckley said the newspaper “stands by our story.” Wright was interviewed Thursday by reporter Valerie Helmbreck, a 10-year employee of the paper assigned to the features department.
Wright was not immediately available to comment, but in a signed letter he had posted in the players’ locker room, he categorically denied making the statements that appeared in the newspaper, including a quote that said “Women are handicapped by having boobs. It’s not easy for them to keep the left arm straight, and that’s one of the tenets of the game. Their boobs get in the way.”
LPGA veteran Jan Stephenson was incredulous. “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” she said. “I’ve got as straight an elbow as there is. Is he saying Curtis Strange has got big ones? Because he’s got the crookedest elbow around.”
On the issue of lesbianism on the women’s tour, Wright was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “Let’s face some facts here. Lesbians in the sport hurt women’s golf. When it gets to the corporate level, that’s not going to fly. They’re going to a butch game and that furthers the bad image of the game.”
He also was quoted as saying that lesbianism “is not reticent. It’s paraded. There’s a defiance in them the last decade.”
In a statement released by CBS, Wright denied such statements, adding that, “‘Not going to fly’ is not a phrase I use, but I do recall that Ms. Helmbreck used it when she asked me to comment on the sponsorship issue.”
Wright’s statement also said, “I related a story told to me during an Australian broadcast by JoAnne Carner, the legendary American golfer, who explained to me what she thought the differences were between men’s and women’s golf. I explained that JoAnne had said words to the effect that: ‘If you want to know the difference, it’s these,’ at which point she pointed to her breasts. At no time did I ever use the word ‘boobs.”’
LPGA commissioner Charles Mechem was reportedly on his way to Wilmington Friday night and scheduled a press conference this morning. Wright and his CBS colleagues broadcast the tournament Thursday for The Golf Channel.
Laura Davies, the top money winner on the tour, said she thought there were “some pretty good golfers on the course today, and they all have breasts as far as I know.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: In Wright’s defense Text of the letter from CBS golf analyst Ben Wright to members of the LPGA Tour concerning statements attributed to Wright by The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal about lesbianism on the women’s golf tour: I am disgusted at the pack of lies and distortion that was attributed to me in the newspapers this morning. I have been a supporter and friend of women’s golf for more than 40 years as a writer and broadcaster. A few years ago, I put on an LPGA pro-am and the 18 players involved were so delightful to their predominately male partners that I had more than 50 letters telling me they enjoyed playing with the women much more than the men. It is regrettable that The News Journal’s dishonest tactics have resulted in this terrible, scandalous incident. As a result, I currently am exploring my legal options. I stand behind believing that the LPGA is a strong and growing organization and I remain a loyal fan of the LPGA.