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On Friday and Saturday, LPGA Commissioner Charles Mechem withheld judgment on Ben Wright. Mechem, on Friday: "If he did not make the alleged remarks, as he stoutly maintains ... it would be terribly unfair and prematurely judgmental for us to insist that he be replaced" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 5/13). But Mechem did fire "an emotional -- indeed an angry -- fusillade at the central tenet of the News Journal's story: that the incidence of lesbianism in women's professional golf has damaged the LPGA's appeal," according to Vic Dorr of the RICHMOND TIMES- DISPATCH. Mechem: "Here we are, sitting in here on this beautiful day when the best women's golfers in the world are out there on course. Why aren't we out there watching them and enjoying them? Because we're in here dealing with this absurd and ugly charge that lesbianism is stunting the growth of the LPGA Tour." Mechem said he has "never" had a potential sponsor cite lesbianism as a reason for not backing the LPGA (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 5/14). Mechem, noting that 30 sponsors have signed on in the past five years: "This is incredibly overblown" (AD AGE, 5/15 issue). IT WILL HURT: Burns Celebrity Sports Service President David Burns: "It will definitely hurt the game, hurt the sport, because a lot of latant bigots, the top gray-haired decision- makers, will have some reason now not to invest their money in this sport" (N.Y. NEWSDAY, 5/13). IT MAY HELP: In New York, Ira Berkow writes, "If it is true that corporations discriminate against the LPGA because of perceived lesbianism, then these pillars of the business community should be held accountable. And Ben Wright will have made a contribution to society, even if it would have been an inadvertent one on his part" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/13). OTHER VIEWS: In New York, Phil Mushnick, noting that the LPGA promotes "everything straight and feminine," writes that Wright's alleged comments "verbalized a mindset established by the LPGA; a mindset that establishes lesbianism, which is irrelevant to the game of golf, as bad for the business of golf" (N.Y. POST, 5/15). In Baltimore, John Eisenberg writes that recent news reports show that "the private lives of men are a lot more sordid than the private lives of women in sports" (Baltimore SUN, 5/13). Women's Sports Foundation Exec Dir Donna Lopiano, in a statement released Friday: "Sexual preference and sexuality have nothing to do with a person's performance as an athlete or professional in any field" (Women's Sports Foundation).
Shaquille O'Neal has signed on to star in "Kazaam," a feature film to be directed by Paul Michael Glaser, according to this morning's VARIETY. The film by Interscope Communications will be shooting in July, after the NBA season. O'Neal will play a "rapping, tough-talking genie who has an Odd-Couple-like relationship with a 12-year old boy." This is the first picture in a two-movie deal for O'Neal, who is scheduled to begin production of "Shaq Fu" next summer (John Brodie, DAILY VARIETY, 5/15 issue).
CBS golf analyst Ben Wright was back in the booth at the McDonald's LPGA Championship after denying that he had made statements attributed to him in Friday's Wilmington News Journal that lesbianism has hurt the LPGA's image and that women's "boobs" affect their swing. CBS officials met with Wright on Friday, and, according to Jack Craig of the BOSTON GLOBE, "the network accepted Wright's word on the matter and also criticized the newspaper." CBS Sports President David Kenin defended Wright saying that he "has been done a grave injustice." The News Journal stands by its story (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/14). Kenin noted that he had asked the paper for "support materials," but was refused, and said that others present have supported Wright's version of the events (Maryann Hudson, L.A. TIMES, 5/14). WRIGHT'S STATEMENT: Wright released a two-page statement recounting the interview with reporter Valerie Helmbreck. He explains that he recounted a story by JoAnne Carner, in which she joked about breasts being the main difference between herself and male golfers. Wright: "At no time did I ever use the word boobs." Wright adds that it was Helmbreck, not he, who used the terms "butch" and "not going to fly" concerning sponsors' attitudes towards lesbianism and the LPGA. Wright: "I never said anything to the effect that lesbians in women's golf are hurting the sport or that lesbians were bad for the image of the game" (USA TODAY, 5/15). During Saturday's broadcast, Wright again called the remarks "totally untrue." Wright: "Much has been said and written about these disparaging comments attributed to me which are not only totally inaccurate, but extremely distasteful. It's a pity these remarks have detracted from the focus of the McDonald's LPGA Championship which has perennially raised so many millions of dollars for needy children" ("McDonald's Championship," CBS, 5/13). DID HE SAY IT? Skip Bayless: "I think he said it and I think there is a grain of truth in what he was saying, the first part of it." Mike Lupica: "CBS can't ever quite get this thing right. ... I think it is admirable that you stand by your guy, but they did it gracelessly. I don't think anyone believes this feature writer for the Wilmington paper went to the golf course that day and said, 'OK, which one of CBS' golf announcers do I want to sandbag and try to make national headlines with.' That's preposterous" ("Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/14). USA TODAY's Mike Heistand writes, "CBS had better be right about Wright, or it is going to richly deserve the backlash of criticism that would blindside the network" (USA TODAY, 5/15). In San Francisco, Scott Ostler writes that CBS "launched an in-depth investigation, which consisted of asking Wright if he said that stuff" (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 5/15).