Phil Mickelson briefly became public enemy No. 1 — he lost the top ranking when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine — for his comments about his support for the proposed Saudi-financed Super Golf League.
“They’re scary m——- f——— to get involved with,” Mickelson told The Fire Pit Collective’s Alan Shipnuck in an excerpt of an upcoming book. “We know they killed (Washington Post reporter Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Those comments launched a wave of media outrage — deservedly so.
Mickelson found himself being abandoned by sponsors — although one of his sponsors, the accounting firm KPMG, dumped Mickelson not because they were offended by his comments, but because they feared their good clients, the Saudis, would be upset.
But what if, let’s say, a star American skier or figure skater had said the following about China before the Winter Olympics:
“They’re scary m——- f——— to get involved with. You know, they are calling this the Genocide Games. The government kills people. People disappear. They torture them and throw them into life-threatening prison and detention conditions. They locked up more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims. They’ve forced abortions and sterilizations. They throw journalists in jail and anyone who speaks about against them.
“Knowing all this, why would I consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape my life, win a gold medal and maybe get some sponsors and endorsement deals.”
Imagine the backlash that would be generated by such thoughtless comments by an athlete. Worse, imagine if the athlete and others went ahead and competed in those Games.
No American Olympic athlete made any comments like Mickelson did. But if they had, it would have been just as honest as Mickelson’s admission.
That’s the only difference between the scenario that Mickelson spoke of — a Saudi-backed professional gold tour (likely finished now before it even starts) — and the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Everyone was outraged about the atrocities the Chinese government has committed against the Uyghurs and other Muslims, and the oppressive way the government does business. The media wrote about it, talked about it, criticized the Chinese for their human rights abuses and the International Olympic Committee for their complicity in awarding the Games to such a corrupt society.
Yet once the Games began, it was business as usual.
Sponsors didn’t abandon the Games.
They embraced them, despite the damning 2020 State Department report that concluded, “Government officials and the security services often committed human rights abuses with impunity. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police but did not announce results or findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action.”
The media, after they expressed their outrage over the horrors their Olympic hosts committed, went about writing stories of revolutionary ski equipment, artificial snow and the tremendous challenges of these athletes facing such difficult circumstances as competing under the duress of the Chinese COVID-19 restrictions in the “bubble.”
Once the Games began, the outrage diminished to the point of disappearing.
Pro Publica reported that “Once the Games began, the drama of the sports themselves dominated attention. Protests over China’s human rights record have not materialized, as some activists hoped. On the contrary, many athletes have heaped praise on the host country and its people.
“When you really meet the people here and talk to them,” Jenise Spiteri, the American snowboarder competing for Malta, said in a state media interview. ‘Everyone has a good heart.’
More from Pro Publica:
“Spicy Panda, an account used to promote the Chinese version of reality, tweeted a state media report about another American competitor, the freestyle skier Aaron Blunck. In remarks posted by the official China Daily newspaper, Blunck praised China’s COVID-19 protocols.
“‘#AaronBlunck revealed the real China that is totally different from what some American media have said!’ Spicy Panda’s post read.”
By the time the Games ended, the biggest outrage wasn’t genocide — it was a 15-year-old abused Russian figure skater and her doping scandal.
Maybe every American news outlet that chose to cover these Olympics in spite of the Chinese human rights abuses should have prefaced every story with this excerpt from the State Department report: “Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and include: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.”
That, of course, would have interfered with the award-winning prose they produced.
Mickelson offered a weak apology for his comments, including to the Saudis themselves who would back the tour. “My experience with LIV Golf Investments,” Mickelson said, referring to the Saudi’s front group, “has been very positive and I apologize for anything that was taken out of context. The specific people I have worked with are visionaries and have only been supportive. More importantly, they passionately love golf and share my drive to make the game better.”
I’m waiting for the apology from everyone that allowed the Chinese gangsters to whitewash their crimes against humanity with their participation in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics — for a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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