Monday, April 11, 2011

Tara Sullivan Denied Access to Male Locker Room at Masters, Overreaction Ensues

"Bad enough no women members at Augusta. But not allowing me to join writers in locker room interview is just wrong."

That is a tweet from female journalist Tara Sullivan of the Bergen Record from Sunday night after she was denied access to the male locker room at Augusta National Golf Club.  The tweet was published at around 8:30 pm and thanks to the express nature of social media the story blew up in a matter of minutes. 

The general public reaction was one of outrage as people simply couldn't wrap their heads around a female being barred from a male locker room.  Naturally the majority of the outrage was directed at Augusta National due to their history of sexism (they currently have no female members) however some people were quick to blame the security guard who refused her entry.

This is where the overreaction began.

A common saying is that when you have a knee-jerk reaction often times you end up looking like the jerk.  This saying rings especially true in this case as people were quick to call both Augusta National and the security guard sexist before getting all of the facts.  If people had simply waited for the entire story to surface they would have realized that the whole situation was a misunderstanding and not some sort mean spirited and sexist act with the intention of embarrassing Tara Sullivan.

Fact #1 - The security guard that denied Tara Sullivan was female not male like many assumed

Here is a quote from Tara Sullivan in an article she published this morning that ran in almost every major newspaper Monday morning,

"At the final portion of the hallway, the one that ended at the locker room door, I was told by a female security officer that I was not allowed in.  I asked the security woman again why they had such a policy, and she told me it was because there was an open bathroom area in the locker room.  She apologized for the rule, saying it was not her policy."

So rather than a male security guard rudely telling Tara Sullivan she wasn't allowed and not giving an explanation it was actually a female who, based on Sullivan's own story, politely explained to her the situation and what she understood was the policy of the club.

But rather than wait for that information to come out people just assumed it was a man who denied her.  I'm not saying it makes it right because she was denied by a woman I am simply showing how jumping to a conclusion rather than waiting for facts can lead to overreactions.

Fact #2 - Augusta National apologized as soon as they were informed of what occurred

Once the story broke many people were quick to blame Augusta National and point to their sexist past (myself included although I didn't blame them I simply stated I wasn't surprised based on their history).  For those that are unaware in 2002 there was a large controversy over the lack of female members at Augusta National.

In response then Chairman Hootie Johnson stated publicly, "Our membership is single gender just as many other organizations and clubs all across America. These would include junior Leagues, sororities, fraternities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and countless others. And we all have a moral and legal right to organize our clubs the way we wish"

That is sound logic and although it may not be politically correct and socially acceptable it is legally correct as Augusta National is a private organization who can create and enforce any policy it wishes.  Since then the club has allowed female members to join the 'waiting list' although that was 9 years ago and there still isn't one single female member.  But back to Tara Sullivan.

Once again in her own words, "I approached the media desk for an official reaction. An apology was translated to me shortly after and Masters media official Steve Ethun met with me personally."

"I apologize," he said. "It was a complete misunderstanding by tournament week security and you should have rightfully been given access per the standard practices of major sporting events."

One more quick excerpt from Tara Sullivan's personal account, "I looked around for any official Masters representative, but didn’t see anyone."

So what happened was Sullivan was denied access to the locker room and there was no official present to correct the mistake that had been made.  As soon as an official was notified an apology was given although at that time it was too late. 

There was nothing that Augusta National could have done short of stationing an official right by the door to the locker room.  In this case it seems as though Tara Sullivan was simply unlucky and to accuse Augusta National of purposely baring her is flat out incorrect.

Fact #3 - The female security guard was "tournament week staff" 

What does that mean exactly?  It means that the security guard isn't a full-time employee of Augusta National and that she was hired on a 7 day contract to work just the Masters.  Once the tournament ended she would effectively no longer be employed.

Therefore it would be fair to say she might not know 100% of the policies at the club and simply made a judgement call that was incorrect.  She was clearly unaware of equal-access policy which Augusta National does have in effect and had an official been there at the time the situation would no doubt have been rectified.

Tara Sullivan even took some of the blame off the female security guard herself when she said in her recounting of the incident, "Augusta National does not allow women members, so perhaps security personnel could be confusing club policy with Masters policy."

As I said before it was bad luck for Sullivan and an unfortunate misunderstanding that has spiraled into a backlash against Augusta National for being "sexists."

Fact #4 - Sullivan met her deadline and got her story on Rory McIlroy published

That obviously doesn't make up for what happened to her but in reality that's what this whole incident is about.  A reporter wanted an interview but was denied access to the locker room.  She eventually got quotes and the entire transcript of a group interview from her fellow journalists but she missed out on being there personally.

People were reacting like she was denied access to a cure for cancer.  She was just trying to write a 700 word story and couldn't talk to her main interview subject directly.  Context people, context.

I can understand why people would be upset over first hearing about a story like this.  Its 2011 and females are still having to deal with incidents like this.  A lot of the outrage I saw came from female journalists and members of the media which is shocking because if you are a professional journalist you should know that facts are king.  Reacting without knowing the facts can blow up in your face and make you look foolish and had everyone just sat back and waited 12 hours they would have seen that this was just a case of misunderstanding and bad luck.

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