Augusta National and the U.S. Masters Golf Tournament remind me a bit of when I was just a boy, hanging around the playground with my friends. Life was simple and had a simple truth; girls were yucky. We had our little group, and absolutely no girls were allowed. I grew up (though the debate rages on about that), but good ‘ol fashioned boys-only clubs are still around. At Augusta National, the boys are just a heck of a lot more wrinkly and wear the darndest pants.
Enter 'the girl'. She is IBM CEO and all-around winner Virginia Rometty. Not just any girl mind you. She was probably that girl on the playground that scared the heck out of all the boys by being good at everything.
As the head honcho at IBM, Rometty is directly involved with The Masters, and the controversy surrounding the club. Now understand, Augusta National allows women to play golf. They aren’t cast out like lepers or anything.They do however, decline women the opportunity to be official members of the club. That’s right, no green jacket for you. As Augusta is a privately run facility, they are perfectly within their rights to be arrogant half-wits and purposefully make themselves the targets of activists and bored college kids looking for that next important cause.
Excluding women has been a pressure point for a number of years, and they have only allowed African American membership since 1990. In 2002, then Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson famously exclaimed Augusta would not be forced into admitting a female member “at the point of a bayonet.”
Ten years ago, an activist named Martha Burk coordinated a protest at The Masters in Augusta to try to force the club’s hand and make them accept women members. It failed miserably. The bayonets were packed up and put back in the attic.
Dusting off her verbal barbs, Burk has thrust herself back into the spotlight again, championing Virginia Rometty’s Augusta National membership. Loudly. The only problem seems to be Rometty in this equation, who couldn’t seem more disinterested. Burk is out there leading the charge telling people what IBM needs to do, and how to remedy this gross injustice of women everywhere. What advice does Burk have for IBM? Via ESPN:
“It's the board of directors. They need to take action here. They don't need to put that on her. They need to say, 'This is wrong. We thought the club was on the verge of making changes several years ago, and we regretfully end our sponsorship to maintain her credibility and the company brand.”
So not only does Burk stand up for a woman who clearly doesn’t need anyone to stand up for her (see: becoming IBM CEO), but pushes Rometty out of the conversation altogether and passes the buck to “the board”. I would ask Ms. Burk exactly how that promotes the strength of women. She goes on further to add "IBM is in a bigger bind than the club," and "the club trashed their image years ago.”
The fact that Rometty may have already been offered a membership aside (Augusta National is not telling), Burk and it seems the overwhelming majority of sportswriters, jocks, op-eds, Presidential hopefuls and current U.S. Presidents think she should be allowed in the boys' club. Conventional wisdom is piling on Augusta National with self-righteous indignation and handing out wedgies and purple nurples.
Well I say hold your horses there, bud. Take a step back and breathe. Relax. Get the bigger picture. As ‘Ginny’ Rometty will tell you, she can sure as heck speak for herself. I’d wager if she had a gripe with Augusta National and wanted to make a statement, she would do it. Perhaps Rometty respects the right of the club to be a ‘girls are yucky’ club. Rometty is showing respect to a silly tradition. Yes, men want to hang out and do men stuff at their men’s club. So what?
IBM knows this policy, as does every other sponsor. So why don't Burk and the rest of the bandwagoneers stomp their feet and shake their angry fists in the air toward the wallets behind The Masters? ALL of them. They are the entities showing the most support, so surely they would be the object of their ire?
It comes down to a personal choice. Ginny Rometty has shown extraordinary class and tact by rising above the old southern stubbornness, and knowing it would be ridiculous hyperbolic nonsense to make a social and political mountain out of a silly boys club molehill. She is showing respect for an old tradition that is a very proud one in Augusta as the American home of the gentleman's game, and arguably the most important golf tournament in the world. To use that platform as Burk would have it would detract from the tournament and the game, and do no favors for herself or IBM.
While Burk’s proclamations of how IBM is in a bind make a nice sound-bite, Rometty’s actions (or lack thereof) have actually helped IBM. Being squarely in the news day in and day out, and causing zero controversy, Rometty has elevated herself and those she represents. She is far too smart to have this be an accident.
Whether Augusta gives her that green jacket or not, Rometty and IBM are already the winners.