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Pro Golfer Apologizes for Criticizing Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Record, Loses Major Sponsorships
Phil Mickelson said off-the-record that Saudi Arabia has a "horrible record on human rights." Then he lost sponsorships and apologized. Are we missing something?
In summarizing his forthcoming book Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar, author Alan Shipnuck reported that pro golfer Phil Mickelson was skeptical of the Saudi-backed Super Golf League’s role in the sport, especially given Saudi Arabia’s human rights record:
[Mickelson] didn’t pretend to be excited about hitching his fortunes to Saudi Arabia, admitting the SGL was nothing more than what he called “sportswashing” by a brutally repressive regime. “They’re scary mother***ers to get involved with,” he said. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident 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. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”
Then, last week, Mickelson issued a lengthy statement apologizing for what he said:
“I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions,” Mickelson’s statement read. “It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”
“My experience with LIV Golf Investments has been very positive. I apologize for anything I said that was taken out of context,” he continued. “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. They have a clear plan to create an updated and positive experience for everyone including players, sponsors, networks, and fans.”
LIV Golf Investments is the Saudi-backed company behind the Super Golf League.
Mickelson’s public apology didn’t prevent him from losing sponsorships. KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms “mutually agreed” to end their sponsorship, according to NPR. Mickelson also lost sponsorships from Workday, Amstel, and Callaway. From CBS Sports, Callaway said in a statement:
"Callaway does not condone Phil Mickelson's comments and we were very disappointed in his choice of words – they in no way reflect our values or what we stand for as a company," the statement read. "Phil has since apologized and we know he regrets how he handled recent events. We recognize his desire to take some time away from the game and respect that decision. At this time, we have agreed to pause our partnership and will re-evaluate our ongoing relationship at a later date."
To be completely honest, Pluribus is not even sure which aspect Mickelson was apologizing for, or with which statements his disappointed sponsors disagree. Numerous human rights organizations regularly report Saudi Arabia’s dismal record on these issues. Freedom House gave Saudi Arabia a 7/100 in its Freedom in the World Index. The Human Right Measurement Initiative (HRMI) gave Saudi Arabia a 2.4 out of 10 on their “Safety from the State” measure, which “suggests that many people are not safe from one or more of the following: arbitrary arrest, torture and ill-treatment, forced disappearance, execution or extrajudicial killing.”
Still, Mickelson’s comments have created so much controversy in the sport that he’s felt compelled to apologize and lost major sponsorships over . . . fair and true statements?
What are we missing?