Harold Varner Emerges as Voice to be Heard as Golf Tackles Racism

By: Golfshake Editor | Tue 09 Jun 2020 | Comments

AT TIMES of crisis, leaders emerge. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has led to global protests and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. We look at what has happened through the eyes of the golf world. 

You could have been forgiven for expecting Tiger Woods to have taken a leading role in speaking out against institutional racism, but it is Harold Varner III whose voice has been heard loudest, and who has surely struck a chord. 

Woods issued a brief statement on Twitter in which he said: “My heart goes out to George Floyd, his loved ones and all of us who are hurting right now,” Woods said. “I have always had the utmost respect for our law enforcement. They train so diligently to understand how, when and where to use force. This shocking tragedy clearly crossed that line. I remember the LA riots and learned that education is the best path forward. We can make our points without burning the very neighbourhoods that we live in. I hope that through constructive, honest conversations we can build a safer, unified society.” 

The 15-time major champion is to be applauded - he is not an athlete who is known for taking a public stance on issues such as this. But Varner went further. In an interview with PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, Varner took the opportunity to encourage golf to commit to growing and diversifying, asking Monahan if he really felt the Tour is doing enough in this respect.

“I think we’ve been trying for a long time,” Monahan said.

“That’s where I struggle,” Varner said. “I think it’s just really damn hard. Because if it was so easy, why wouldn’t we do it?”

Varner said while few golfers are black, he does feel encouraged by the Tour’s commitment to diversity. This is based on the number of black people working behind the scenes at every PGA Tour event. But he wants them to be more visible and he wants their voices to be heard.

“There are black people that make the Tour run every day,” Varner said. “I just don’t know how else to explain it. It’s why I’ve never worried about the PGA Tour. I worry about the golf part, yeah. I think most of it has to do with access, but I think that’s in any colour, race, but I’m going to do my part for black people because there’s other people who gave me access.”

Varner’s HV3 Foundation gives back to children who benefit from increased access and opportunity in golf. The foundation provides financial assistance for equipment, after-school programmes, instruction and camps for young athletes.

Monahan and Varner believe that the timing of the Black Lives Matter protests and demands for social justice could not be better even though the calls for social and political reform come while the world is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

“You think about what we’ve been through since we left each other on the Friday of the Players Championship and you have Covid-19, which is a situation that we didn’t create. Then you have this racial and social unrest which is a situation we did create,” Monahan said. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘What terrible timing.’ Actually it’s really good timing because people have more time right now to reflect on what has happened, both looking back and looking at what’s currently happening, and to the point you’re making, we’re the greatest country in the world and if we can overcome this it is an opportunity for us to unite and for us as a sport as we come back to play. Sport is the ultimate uniter.

“It’s the ultimate source of inspiration. As we move forward, we move forward with more awareness and a commitment to be a great representative for what’s right.”

It is the first time Monahan has addressed racial inequality. He has written to Tour staff, players and tournament organisers, addressing racial tension and inequality in the United States. 

In his conversation with Varner, Monahan said he spent a great deal of time listening and learning about what it meant to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

“I called my black colleagues and black friends, people that I thought that I could learn from and I felt vulnerable,” Monahan said. “I didn’t understand in a world where people say, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ I didn’t understand what the solution was in the short term, but I was committed to make certain I was part of identifying it as supporting it. So listening to those people that have been affected was the best place to start.”

And he promised that the Tour will restart its season fully committed to diversity, inclusion and doing what’s right.

“What has happened here is not right and we’re going to be part of the solution. Let’s open up our discussion,” Monahan said. “Let’s make certain that we are listening to our players, listening to our colleagues and let’s do this the right way.”

In his conversation with Varner, Monahan said that he believed that the PGA Tour has been stable for a long time, but not growing. He said he wanted the Tour to use this moment in history to commit to growing and diversifying the sport. Time alone will tell if these are simply bold words.

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