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Opinion: Augusta National is unlikely host to social activists as sports world focuses on Georgia

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – For the second time in three years, Augusta National Golf Club majestically elevated the profile of women’s amateur golf Saturday, doing its best to show a stodgy and often misogynistic sport what its future looks like, if it truly cares to notice.

By once again flinging open its doors for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur only nine years after it allowed women to become members, this storied club did more than showcase the game’s finest young talent. That certainly would have been enough, but unwittingly, it did more: it provided a significant platform for the social media opinions of several of these women on a range of subjects important to them and their peers, including Black Lives Matter, social justice and voting rights.

It has to be the first time Augusta National has ever hosted social activists of any kind and it certainly provides a stark contrast with what is likely coming Masters week as the eyes of the sports world turn to the very significant political and social issues percolating here in Georgia – and the predictable blank stares and no comments of the predominately white, rich, very conservative male golfers who will be playing here.

On June 1, 2020, just after the death of George Floyd, University of Southern California golfer Alexa Melton wrote on Twitter: “I am not black, but I see you. I am not black, but I hear you. I am not black, but I will fight for you. For what is right. For what you deserve.”

I read her tweet back to her Saturday afternoon not far from the 18th green, after she finished tied for 28th.

“I actually just wrote a paper on this,” Melton said, “where athletes, they have a platform, and where they should actually use their platform to speak out on the changes that are happening. And to just stand for what’s right.”

She said that while she has focused exclusively on golf the past few days, issues such as racial injustice remain vital. “I can definitely use my platform to advocate for them and just put more eyes and more focus on them.”

When asked about their forthright social media comments, several other golfers offered muted replies, understandably so. It’s not always easy speaking up on a stage such as this, where these young players are considered guests of the club and find themselves continually expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to play such a revered course.

Duke’s Erica Shepherd, who retweeted Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s passionate video supporting Black Lives Matter and decrying systemic racism in America last summer, is aware of the issues in Georgia.

“It’s absolutely important to me, it always is,” said Shepherd, who tied for 16th Saturday. “But when you’re competing tournament week, I try to stay off of social media, stay kind of out of the outside world stuff, and just keep my head down. I’ll look at that after this tournament.”

Augusta National Women's Amateur

Erica Shepherd walks to the second green during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Augusta National Golf Club. (Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)

Her playing partner was Northwestern’s Brooke Riley, who retweeted the Miami Marlins’ historic announcement of Kim Ng as general manager last November, adding, “… this is just the beginning. … Timely since we’re about to discuss gender and racial inequity in sports for class.”

Said Riley, who finished 30th: “That’s always on your mind, but I think when you’re in a situation like this, I think your head’s in a different space. I think when you’re competing at Augusta and you’re competing in general, your mind’s in that space for sure.”

Vanderbilt’s Auston Kim wrote extensively about the presidential election on Twitter, including attaching this tweet to a photo of her placing her ballot into a drop box. “Civic duty fulfilled. Free and fair elections are the foundation to a democracy. Representatives must be held accountable in our democratic republic, especially now. Every vote ought to be counted. If not, our future looks even bleaker. #VOTE”

In another tweet, she said that active voter suppression, “the quest to delegitimize the fair casting of votes” and “declaring a premature win based on incomplete and spun information” are “an embarrassment to our country.”

After finishing tied for 25th, she was asked about what was going on right here, with Georgia’s new voter suppression law.

“The state of Georgia has the right to make its own decisions,” she said. “And I have thoughts on it but they can do whatever they’d like, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Then again, her social media posts have already spoken volumes. So have the tweets of her fellow competitors. The powers that be in golf should listen to their every word.

original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/04/04/opinion-augusta-national-social-activists-georgia/

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