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Commentator Wright Loses CBS Position

Golf: Alleged insensitive remarks led to network's decision to keep him off telecasts.

January 10, 1996|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CBS, caught in a bunker so deep it saw no other way out, suspended golf commentator Ben Wright indefinitely Tuesday.

CBS was careful to say that Wright wasn't fired. In fact, the four-year contract extension Wright signed in November will be honored. But, according to David Kenin, CBS Sports president, Wright will not be commenting on golf in the foreseeable future.

The controversy surrounding Wright, an Englishman who is generally well liked in golf circles, began in May after he did an interview with Valerie Helmbreck of the News Journal of Wilmington, Del.

Wright, 63, a golf analyst with CBS since 1972, was quoted by Helmbreck as saying "lesbians in the sport hurt women's golf."

Helmbreck also quoted him as saying women golfers "are handicapped by having boobs."

After Helmbreck's story came out, Wright claimed he had been misquoted, and CBS backed him.

But in the Golf Plus edition of the Dec. 4 Sports Illustrated, a story by Michael Bamberger offered evidence that Wright had lied about being misquoted. The story also attacked CBS for backing Wright.

But perhaps most incisive about the magazine story was that it pointed out that Wright had been incorrect in his characterization of Helmbreck. In defending himself, he had indicated that she was divorced, was in the middle of a child custody battle and possibly was a lesbian.

But Helmbreck, who has been married for 16 years and is the mother of three children, was not even contemplating divorce.

In a statement issued Tuesday through his public relations agency, RLR Associates of New York, Wright apologized to CBS, the LPGA and Helmbreck.

"Despite the fact that I have been widely misquoted, there is no doubt that I have been guilty of making some insensitive remarks," Wright said.

He promised to "be more thoughtful and, I hope, more sensitive in the future."

Helmbreck told the Associated Press that said she considered it "a back-handed apology for him to say that he'd been misquoted and then in the next breath to attempt to apologize to me.

"Ben Wright was never misquoted. I know that and almost everyone else knows that now. Being called a liar is the very worst thing that can happen to a reporter."

A statement issued by Kenin said in part that "because of the continuing controversy that has arisen from comments attributed to Wright, CBS believes his association with the network has detracted from its golf coverage."

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