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Just for men

Sports | Augusta National's hard line against female members won't separate the PGA Tour and the Masters

Issue: "Trouble in Egypt," June 2, 2012

Some things are too important to bow to political correctness. According to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, the Masters golf tournament is one of them. For years, feminist organizations have complained that Augusta National Golf Club, site of golf's most prestigious event, does not allow females to join as members. The issue garnered new attention this year when IBM promoted Virginia Rometty into the role of chief executive officer. The company's four previous CEOs received invitations to membership in the exclusive club. Not so Rometty.

Nevertheless, Finchem assured reporters at a recent press conference that the PGA Tour would continue to recognize the Masters as an official tour stop. His reasoning: "It's too important." Finchem said the tour would not be "determining whether their policies are right or wrong, because we don't have to." He's right-and smart. In punting on the issue, the tour avoids becoming an activist organization and can continue generating large revenues from the sport's most watched tournament.

Still, Augusta National is not without pressure to change its policy. Prominent club member Warren Buffett said recently that he would allow female members if it were up to him-but it is not up to him.

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The morality of the club's policy remains an open question. Augusta National is certainly free from a legal standpoint to operate as a men-only establishment. But is it right? Feminist groups decry the policy as discriminatory and harmful to women, preventing them from enjoying membership at such an historic course. Perhaps the plumbers union should make the same claim. Augusta National has yet to invite a plumber into its exclusive club. Or what of circus clowns? Not a single one on the membership roles. Surely, such discrimination cannot stand in our progressed society.

Gladwell vs. the gridiron

Should universities ban college football? An apparently absurd suggestion on its face, that question provided the occasion for serious conversation before a crowd of New Yorkers at a recent Slate/Intelligence Squared live debate in Manhattan. Author, columnist, and all-around culture guru Malcolm Gladwell believes they should, arguing that the potential for unpaid athletes to suffer brain injuries renders the entire enterprise unbearably exploitative. Recent studies show a link between playing football and brain damage, including one report that revealed a 37 percent higher rate of Alzheimer's disease among NFL retirees than among men in the general population.

Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and Gladwell's debate partner, deems college football a detriment to academic achievement and a significant reason for American workers falling behind in the competitive global job market.

Gladwell and Bissinger won the night by measure of audience vote, but their ideas are not likely to gain much traction among a broader national populace gripped by the college football experience. It's a $2 billion industry according to Forbes, generating more than $1 billion in annual profits. And the game provides educational opportunities to young men who otherwise might lack the inclination or financial resources to pursue them. It helps build camaraderie and lifelong friendships among players of diverse backgrounds. More importantly, it's a hoot to watch and play-something the Canadian Gladwell, by his own admission, simply doesn't understand. -Mark Bergin

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