By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; February 28, 2022)
“My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” Adlai Stevenson
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” George Orwell
Freedom can never be taken for granted.
Russia’s violent and ill-advised invasion of Ukraine brings this reality into immediate focus.
But the events in Ukraine overshadow decidedly smaller, long-festering threats that nonetheless, in the collective, may be eroding freedoms worldwide with as much certainty.
One such small threat was highlighted by a recent news story that warranted little more than a minor headline on sports news websites such as ESPN.com and CBS Sports.com.
On February 25th, Callaway Golf, the largest golf equipment manufacturer in the U.S., decided to “pause” its business relationship with legendary golfer Phil Mickelson, a six-time major champion, over “controversial” remarks he made in an interview about Saudi Arabia, the country financing a new professional golf league to compete with the dominant PGA Tour.
Earlier in the week, KPMG (a Big Four accounting firm), Workday (a large U.S. software firm) and Amstel Light terminated their relationship with Mickelson.
What did Mickelson do?
He told a journalist that, while he recognized Saudi Arabia was using the new golf league to “sportswash” the country’s well-documented human rights violations, he was prepared to look past that in order to put pressure on the PGA Tour to increase compensation for that tour’s golfers.
“We know they killed (Washington Post columnist Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay,” Mickelson told The Fire Pit Collective’s Alan Shipnuck. “Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Mickelson, who also described the Saudi’s as “scary,” issued an apology within days of news getting out about his Saudi-related comments:
“Although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interests of golf, my peers, sponsors and fans,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is the problem of off-the-record comments being shared out of context and without my consent, but the bigger issue is that I used words that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”
Mickelson’s fellow golfers offered little support to the backlash over his comments, exemplified by Rory McIlroy who called Mickelson “naive, selfish, egotistical, (and) ignorant.” [A description that could apply to almost every celebrity I’ve ever met.]
Rarely mentioned or hyperlinked in the news reporting about Mickelson’s comments were details of Saudi Arabia’s most egregious human rights violations. So here is an attempt to remedy that oversight:
Human Rights Watch 2021 Report on Saudi Arabia
Amnesty International 2020 Report on Saudi Arabia
U.S State Department 2020 Report on Saudi Arabian Human Rights Practices
It is understandable to think the public admonishment of a multi-millionaire golfer over critical comments about Saudi Arabia is not relevant to the average citizen, but consider this — If an independently wealthy golf hero can be forced to publicly prostrate himself over statements he made based on widely accepted fact, imagine how an average schlub would be disciplined? Or someone from a marginalized community? Or someone who dares to challenge the status quo or the powerful?
The words of Stevenson and Orwell have never been more germane, but it is perhaps this quote that is more pertinent: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” (a quote falsely attributed to George Orwell).
I respect the right of private corporations and entities to censor those who use their services or are under their employ. But it is unfortunate when the news media fails to challenge them for such practices.
It is particularly worrisome when people who speak their mind in good faith are then threatened with the loss of their livelihood.
The tyranny of the thought police does not always operate in darkness. Anymore it appears to happen in the light of day.
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