SBD/August 4, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

PGA Tour Says Policy Remains In Place On Not Commenting On Player Discipline

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Reports surfaced that Johnson was being suspended for six months by the PGA Tour
PGA Tour Exec VP/Communications & Int'l Affairs Ty Votaw on Saturday said that the Tour's "long-standing policy of not commenting on player disciplinary action remains in place, despite an exception made on Friday" regarding Dustin Johnson, according to Garry Smits of the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. The Tour "initially declined comment on a Golf.com story that said Johnson was being suspended for six months because of a positive test for cocaine." However, it shortly thereafter "issued a statement that said Johnson was not under suspension" and reiterated that Johnson took a voluntary leave of absence. Votaw said, “We reserve the right to correct misinformation or reports that are inaccurate. That is what we did. The policy hasn’t changed.” Smits noted it was the "first time since the Tour’s drug policy began" in '08 that the "issue of whether a player was suspended for a positive test for a recreational drug has been addressed in any way by the Tour" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 8/3). GOLFCHANNEL.com's Rex Hoggard noted this is "not the first time the Tour has broken with its policy to not comment on personal matters." In January '09, John Daly was "suspended for alcohol-related issues, a move the Tour initially declined to talk about it." However, Daly said that he was "serving a six-month suspension for 'conduct unbecoming a professional.'" PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem later said, "There’s no reason for me to comment on Daly’s comments because he made comments that were accurate" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 8/2).

KEEPING IT QUIET: In N.Y., Karen Crouse wrote unlike other major North American pro leagues, the PGA Tour has "steadfastly refused to announce fines or suspensions." Tour officials said that the reasoning is that "in most cases, few people know about the original transgression, so why broadcast it to the masses?" But the Tour "makes an exception for doping offenses." Golfer Matt Every in '10 was "suspended for three months" after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession. But the Tour’s "nontransparency on disciplinary matters casts everyone in a dark light," and every "prolonged absence from competition raises eyebrows and invites speculation." However, Every said of the policy, "It definitely helps protect our image, because there might be a household name out here, and I’m not saying this is true, but if there is and everyone thinks, ‘Oh, this guy’s a great guy,’ but he failed one test for marijuana or whatever and the public finds out, his image totally changes. Is that really that big of a deal?” But he added, “If it’s steroids, I think we should know. That’s different" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/2). Golf Channel's Gary Williams said, "There has to be transparency. It's required. Speculation, innuendo and rumor are not healthy. ... It's not healthy for a sports enterprise with respect to brands and sponsorship." He added he understands "that sensitivity," but said, "In order to protect the field, you have to identify the few who are guilty of breaching or being in breach of the rules." Williams: "I do believe that they need to evaluate this when it comes to protecting the grand many and identifying what I believe are the very few. Not only as a deterrent for that individual, but also for the overall brand that is the PGA Tour." Golf Channel's Karen Stupples: "This is a case where this lack of transparency is actually hurting the player. It would be much better if it was all out in the open and everybody knew what we were dealing with." Golf Channel's Damon Hack: "I would just like to see a little more of an active response from the PGA Tour. Less cloak and dagger, more out front and in the open" ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 8/2). 

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD: GOLF.com's weekly roundtable discussed the Tour's transparency, with SI's Alan Shipnuck saying the "irony is that the institutional paranoia harms the players." If the Tour "publicized Johnson's failed drug test and leave/suspension, it's a one-day story." However, it has now "hijacked numerous news cycles." Golf.com's Eamon Lynch: "That lack of transparency -- particularly on drug testing -- serves only to enable repeat offenders who know there is no risk of public shaming by the Tour." SI's Gary Van Sickle: "The best deterrent against drug use -- or slow play, even -- is publicity. Nobody wants to be branded with those. It would be in the Tour's best interests to disclose the failed tests and the slow-play fines. But the Tour is all about image. It thought it could stonewall its way around DJ and that didn't work." SI's Jeff Ritter added, "By treating player disciplinary issues as state secrets, the Tour weakens its brand and looks woefully out of touch" (GOLF.com, 8/3). GOLFCHANNEL.com's Jason Sobel wrote the "irony of the policy" is that it is "meant to protect players who have been suspended or fined, yet it's guilty of the very opposite when no violation has been committed." Now that the "silence is broken, perhaps it will set a new precedent." Sobel: "Maybe this will finally lead to more transparency when it comes to these situations" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 8/1).

WALKING A FINE LINE: GOLFDIGEST.com's Matthew Rudy wrote under the header, "The PGA Tour's Pretend Drug Policy." The "timing of the reports about an official suspension only matters because the PGA Tour doesn't disclose player conduct violations or suspensions." Johnson could be the "only player who failed a test since 2009, or he could be one of 100 who did." The Tour's policy should "be complete transparency in its drug program." If "cheating (or recreational drug use) is so rare, the occasional player who is announced to have been suspended would only serve as more of a reminder about how dedicated the tour is at preserving fair play and protecting the health of its members" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 8/1). ESPN.com's Bob Harig wrote the PGA Tour has "long been chastised for its lack of transparency in these matters, and while a fine for cussing might not be worth telling the world about, a failed drug test that results in a player being sent to the sideline for any length of time and kept from competing is absolutely information that should be disclosed." Harig: "Could you imagine the NFL trying to keep secret the recent Ray Rice suspension? So why does the PGA Tour believe it is above such disclosure to its fans and sponsors?" (ESPN.com, 8/2). In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote the "joke here, clearly, is the PGA Tour’s drug policy, and the way the sport’s high commissioner ... administers that policy without anything resembling the transparency about drugs you get in other major sports." If Johnson "has a drug problem, it is not the crime of the century." But it is the PGA Tour’s "clumsy and obvious cover-up here that now becomes the problem for the people who run the sport." Lupica: "You know why they look like they’re hiding something? Because they are. Not in the interests of protecting Johnson or his reputation, but because they think that the truth about how everybody arrived at this moment is really, really bad for business" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/3).
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