Justin Thomas is one of the PGA Tour’s brightest stars. At 27, even before this weekend, he’d already won 13 times, including a major and a FedExCup title. Twice he’d made it to world No.1.
But since early January, his life had been made a living hell.
During the Tour’s 2021 opener in Hawaii at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Thomas was picked up on a hot mic after missing a short putt. He uttered, “you f**got” – the pejorative term for gay.
Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of that word. (Although I’ve been called it, once or twice, which usually included the other “f” word as the lead-in adjective. As in you “f**king f**got.”)
Anyhow, it had me thinking about that old catchphrase that went something like: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’
That simple idiom – essentially an ode to free speech and American thick skin – is the antithesis to the perpetually offended cancel culture of today.
Now, it’s basically been reversed: if a word hurts them. They’ll break your bones. With sticks and stones.
Today’s sticks and stones are hashtags and cancel campaigns. While bones are your livelihood and reputation.
Back to Justin Thomas. Again, it’s important to remember the context, and intent, in which it was used.
I mean, it’s not like he went on late night national TV and compared his putting skills to those of the Special Olympics.
Thomas was talking to HIMSELF, referring to HIMSELF, and in the company of just HIMSELF.
Yet, that’s not how it’s generally reported in the “news,” even in golf publications. Usually it’s something like, “Thomas, who was caught on a hot mic using a homophobic slur.” Which could be interpreted literally anyway: was he caught calling a fan that word, or his caddie, or another player, or even a Golf Channel host? These are kind of important differences relative to context.
But, that’s exactly why the narrative has been so vague. Because with clarity, the punishment does not even come close to fitting the so-called crime. And with that, Thomas becomes more of a sympathetic character – one being unfairly railroaded, instead of the media-crafted caricature.
Thomas, though, surely taking a cue from some highly-paid PR hack, immediately groveled to the high priests of the cancel culture.
An apology? Haha. Nice try, son. Like dumping a bucket of chum in some warm ocean waters, the woke sharks smelled blood, and circled their target.
What at first seemed like an unfortunate slip, and at most a one or two day story became a media firestorm.
Ralph Lauren canceled him, and then proceeded to trash him in a press release.
As a side note: Thomas still wears Ralph Lauren apparel but without the logo. Yesterday, that logo was invisible to an audience of, at minimum, 5 million.
Thomas, and his logo-free shirt, were on national TV, all alone (Doug Ghim, who?), for about two-thirds of NBC’s four-hour Sunday broadcast. When you consider the additional simulcasts globally, along with streaming platforms, and the next-day news content, including the trophy presentation photos and videos… Well, let’s just say the woke folks at the Ralph Lauren golf team look like absolute nitwits.
Citi, meanwhile, was a bit smarter, yet just as self-righteous. It left the young Thomas hanging a bit, allowing the mob’s faux outrage to fester and foam.
Eventually, they sanctimoniously declared that Thomas would be allowed to continue wearing their logo – the brand known for its 30% interest rate credit cards… yeah, that Citi. He could still wear their red, white, and blue logo on the sleeve of his golf shirt for millions of fans to see every week.
But one caveat: Thomas was forced to “donate a meaningful portion of his Citi 2021 sponsorship fee to mutually agreed upon LGBTQ+ organizations.”
To make matters worse – during this period, Thomas’ grandfather, Paul – a former PGA club professional, passed away. Even worse. He died amid the media-induced controversy, and was surely worried about his famous grandson.
It all clearly had an impact on Thomas. And not in a good way.
The once swashbuckling, outgoing Thomas had become more introverted publicly, and (quite frankly) more pathetic – on the course and in the press room.
Inside the ropes the then world No. 3 (now No. 2) was barely a threat following Kapalua, first missing the cut in a paid appearance in Dubai. Then producing three PGA Tour results of T13, MC, and T15. With the media, he continued to kneel and genuflect, using all the woke lexicon like “conversation,” “opportuntiy,” “growth,” and “learning,” along with a patch work of innocuous euphemisms and catchphrases.
In other words he said nothing.
Didn’t matter. The agenda-driven press continued to prod and poke.
Each time he was interviewed, before or after a round, the media would try to broach the subject. Using the old tried and true passive-aggressive tactic of asking, if he’s ready to “move on,” while not allowing him to move on by continuing to bring it up.
A great example of this occurred late during NBC’s final-round broadcast of The PLAYERS. As Thomas was creating history on the back nine at Sawgrass’ iconic Stadium course – and seemingly putting to rest this “crappy” chapter in his life, NBC’s Mike Tirico interrupted the broadcast to remind the national TV audience of the soon-to-be champion’s “slur.”
One more time. For good measure. One minute of cringe.
“Did they actually just break into a golf tournament to remind us that the leader used a bad word?” asked my wife, who’s not a huge golf fan.
Yes they did.
Afterwards, an emotional Thomas made a bee-line for his family, whom he embraced and hugged.
Justin Thomas had finally moved on.
To the winner’s circle. As a PLAYERS champion.
The woke mob, meanwhile, had moved on as well.