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CBS Keeps Wright After He Denies Remarks on LPGA

May 13, 1995|MARYANN HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Published statements attributed to CBS commentator Ben Wright about lesbians in golf and women's physical differences rocked the world's top players at the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., Friday, but the television network said it will stand behind its popular analyst, who denied making the comments.

Wright, who has worked for CBS for 23 years, was pulled from Friday's TV coverage of the LPGA Championship at DuPont and summoned to New York to meet with CBS executives, after he allegedly told a newspaper reporter that lesbians were to blame for the LPGA's inability to attract more sponsors, and claimed that women's breasts interfere with their swings.

Following the session, CBS said Wright would be back on the telecast today.

"I believe that Mr. Wright made no statements that were disparaging or otherwise offensive to gays or lesbians or the LPGA," said CBS Sports President David Kenin, who added that Wright and CBS Sports have "been done a grave injustice in this matter."

However, Dave Hale, editor of the Wilmington, Del., News Journal said: "We're standing by the accuracy of our story," written by Valerie Helmbreck.

The story had quoted Wright as saying: "Let's face facts here. Lesbians in the sport hurts women's golf. When it gets to the corporate level, that's not going to fly. They're going to a butch game and that furthers the bad image of the game."

In a statement released by CBS, Wright denied making such remarks, saying: " 'Not going to fly' is not a phrase I use, but I do recall that Ms. Helmbreck used it when she asked me to comment on the sponsorship issue."

The newspaper also reported that Wright said anatomical differences put women on a different level than their male counterparts, comparing female pros with male club players.

"Women are handicapped by having boobs," Wright was quoted as saying. "It's not easy for them to keep their left arm straight, and that's one of the tenets of the game. Their boobs get in the way."

In his statement, however, Wright said: "I related a story told to me during an Australian broadcast by JoAnne Carner, the legendary American golfer, who explained to me what she thought the differences were between men's and women's golf. I explained that JoAnne had said words to the effect that: 'If you want to know the difference, it's these,' at which point she pointed to her breasts. At no time did I ever use the word boobs ."

CBS' Kenin said he asked that the newspaper "provide support materials; for journalistic reasons, they refused. I have also questioned individuals who were present in the trailer at the time of the interview. I asked Mr. Wright about the statements attributed to him and the conduct of the interview generally.

"Based on Mr. Wright's responses and on other evidence, I believe that Mr. Wright made no statements that were disparaging or otherwise offensive to gays or lesbians or the LPGA."

Earlier, golfer Nancy Lopez said Wright's reported views were disparaging and the breasts theory was ridiculous. "How does he know?" Lopez asked. "He doesn't have any."

Laura Davies, whom Wright reportedly attacked personally in the article, said she thought there are "some pretty good golfers on the course today, and they all have breasts, as far as I know."

Wright, 62, had a note posted in the locker room, addressed to all LPGA players, categorically denying the quotes, calling them "lies and distortions attributed to me."

His letter continued: "I have been a supporter and friend of women's golf more than 40 years as a writer and a broadcaster. . . . It is regrettable that the News Journal's dishonest tactics have resulted in this terrible, scandalous incident," he said.

LPGA Commissioner Charles Mechem maintained that Wright was off track if he indeed believes that lesbianism has detracted from TV coverage and sponsor interest. "In my 4 1/2 years as commissioner, I have never had one letter nor one phone call from a sponsor, media representative or fan to suggest that this issue is a problem," he said.

In New York, Ellen Carton, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said Wright "seems to be living in another age--the Stone Age," adding: "Without America's lesbian athletes, world-class women's sports would not exist. It's not women's breasts that get in the way of golfing, it's Mr. Wright's ignorance that gets in the way of quality sports broadcasting."

* The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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