The Masters golf tournament: so raaaaacist

This story deals with a curious interview that I happened to catch on CNN yesterday morning that sounded… odd. Aside from sending out a tweet about it at the time, I didn’t pursue it further because I wasn’t entirely clear what was going on. They had an ESPN sports reporter named L.Z. Granderson on their panel talking about issues of racism and (I presume) sports, particularly as such things apply to the recent flap over iconic singer Kate Smith. Nothing too unusual there, but when Granderson brought up the subject of Tiger Woods winning the Masters, he offered a strange take on it that caught the attention of many more people. Hey… you know why they call it “the Masters,” right? (Washington Times, emphasis added)

The Masters Tournament is called that as a reference to slavery and Jim Crow, a prominent ESPN sportswriter implied Tuesday.

L.Z. Granderson, in the context of a CNN “New Day” discussion of sports teams dropping Kate Smith’s iconic recording of “God Bless America” because the 1930s star recorded racist material, dropped a serious of rhetorical questions about the name of golf’s most famous tournament and the iconic course in Augusta, Georgia…

“We celebrated Tiger Woods recently returning back to glory winning at the Masters. We didn’t spend very much time asking ourselves, ‘Why was this tournament called the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, founded by two men that we know, in fact, were racist, who are quoted saying racist things?’ Ever wonder why it was called the Masters?” he said, without answering the idea he was planting in his listeners’ heads.

You can catch the video clip of the exchange here through the wonders of Twitter.

Even if you’re someone who spends a lot of time focusing on the history of racist and/or sexist membership policies at Augusta (of which there have been plenty, to be honest) this was being done in the context of Tiger’s victory. Wouldn’t you be happy that an African-American player was putting on the green jacket? Was that really the time to make such a suggestion?

Further, even if we acknowledge that August was definitely founded by white men in the deep south during a time when racial equality wasn’t exactly a priority (to put it mildly), that’s clearly not where the name came from. The tournament originally went by the rather clunky name of the Augusta National Invitational. It was changed to the Masters in the late 1930s and signified that only the best in the game – those who were masters of the sport – would be invited.

The term is ubiquitous in many aspects of the English language and sports is no exception. When someone achieves grandmaster status in chess, does that mean that they’ve become a racist? Are master craftsmen only producing nooses? It’s an intentionally provocative but unfounded claim.

What should have been more surprising was that neither the hosts of the show nor their other guest said a word in response. It was part of a conversation about Kate Smith’s version of God Bless America being banned by certain sports teams. (Granderson, of course, supported the idea of tearing down Smith’s statue.) John Berman jumped in after Granderson finished his Masters tirade and hustled the discussion straight back to the Kate Smith question. Shouldn’t that have been one of those “record scratch” moments where the conversation grinds to a halt and he at least offers to allow the guest to expand on his remarks?

Apparently not. You can just drop a rhetorical grenade in the middle of a panel discussion on CNN these days and walk away, provided it fits in with the narrative. This. Is. CNN…

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