Female Golfers Angered At Broadcaster's Quote Ben Wright Of Cbs Denied Remarks Attributed To Him About Lesbianism And Anatomy On The Tour.

Posted: May 13, 1995

WILMINGTON — Ben Wright, a CBS golf broadcaster for more than 20 years, was removed from yesterday's TV coverage of the McDonald's LPGA Championship after he was quoted as saying that lesbians on the women's golf tour harmed the sport.

By last night, though, CBS Sports had issued a statement denying any disparaging remarks and charging that Wright was the victim of "a grave injustice."

Wright, 62, also had been quoted in yesterday's News Journal of Wilmington as saying: "Women are handicapped by having boobs. It's not easy for them to keep their left arm straight, and that's one of the tenets of the game."

The remarks brought both dismay and disbelief from members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association here for this week's tournament, one of the LPGA tour's premier events.

Some players doubted that Wright had made the comments. Others were incensed. Wright, in a written note to the players, denied having made the remarks.

CBS immediately went into high-alert damage control. Wright met yesterday in New York with network officials and got strong backing last night from CBS Sports president David Kenin.

In a statement, Kenin said he'd conducted his own investigation. "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 had "been done a grave injustice in this matter."

On Thursday, Wright and other CBS broadcasters had reported on the tournament, being played at the DuPont Country Club, for The Golf Channel, a cable channel. CBS announced last night that Wright would be back on the air for the network's broadcasts of the rounds today and tomorrow.

Wright, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, was quoted in the article as saying:

"Let's face 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."

Wright also was quoted as saying that lesbianism on the tour "is not reticent. It's paraded. There's a defiance in them in the last decade."

Before leaving for New York, Wright had a note distributed to the lockers of players here denying the comments. He accused the News Journal of "lies and distortions."

The article, by staff writer Valerie Helmbreck, ran on the front page. Jerry Buckley, assistant managing editor of the News Journal, said:

"It's pretty simple: We stand by the accuracy of Valerie Helmbreck's story."

LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem issued a statement saying that the association would not have a reaction to the "alleged comments until we know more about the facts."

Mechem went on to say that any suggestion that the issue of lesbianism was a problem on the tour "is totally at odds with the facts and our experience. In my four and one-half years as commissioner, I have never had one letter or one phone call from a sponsor, media representative or fan to suggest that this issue is a problem."

Some players interviewed yesterday seemed skeptical that Wright had made the statements attributed to him. Some criticized the News Journal for publishing the story.

"I'm upset the story ran in the first place," Dottie Mochrie said. "I'm not taking an issue on Ben."

Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said Wright "shouldn't be doing women's golf if he feels that way. Why doesn't he talk about all the men on the tour who fool around on their wives?"

In New York, Ellen Carton, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, issued a statement saying Wright "seems to be living in another age - the Stone Age.

"Without America's lesbian athletes, world-class women's sports would not exist," Carton said. "It's not women's breasts that get in the way of golfing, it's Mr. Wright's ignorance that gets in the way of quality sports broadcasting."

CBS football analyst Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder was fired in 1988 after making derogatory racial comments to a Washington, D.C, television station.

Asked about Wright's comments, golfer Patty Sheehan said: "I have no reaction."

She called the matter of lesbianism on the tour a "non-issue," then referred to it as "a tough issue that people are generally not comfortable with. I don't know why it comes up, but it does. It seems to be a societal thing. It's everywhere. I don't know why it doesn't come up in other places."

Sheehan had a lighter reaction to Wright's comments about women's breasts, which he said do not allow their left arms to remain straight on their backswings.

"This is the first time I've thought about my (breasts) being in my way," she said. "I don't have that problem, as most of you can see."

Laura Davies, the tournament's defending champion and, like Wright, a native of Britain, said Wright "always has been a great supporter of the women's tour."

Added Davies: "There are some pretty good golfers out here, and presumably they all have breasts."

The flap comes at a time when Mechem has slowly restored morale and confidence in the LPGA. Women pros are playing for more than $24 million in prize money this year - a 33 percent increase from 1991, Mechem's first year as commissioner. There are 38 events on the schedule - 26 are televised - and all but one has a title sponsor.

Wright has worked for CBS Sports for 23 years. He might be best known for his running on-air dialogue with and mock putdowns of CBS colleague Gary McCord, who was removed from the network's team for the Masters this year

because of comments that Augusta National Golf Club officials deemed inappropriate.

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