WASHINGTON — Testifying before Congress, Lloyd Ward, the chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, on Tuesday defended his decision to remain a "proud member" of the Augusta National Golf Club, site each year of the Masters, which does not admit women as members.
"Reasonable people can look at the same situation differently," Ward, one of a few African American members at the private club, told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, responding to two senators wondering why the head of the USOC, an organization committed to equality, stays in a club that bars female members.
Ward has for months been a focus point in a campaign by the National Council of Women's Organizations to admit women as members at Augusta.
In November, the USOC's policy-making executive committee issued a statement supporting his pledge to work "aggressively" for reform from within the club.
Martha Burk, the council's chair, said in comments published Tuesday that Ward ought to resign his Augusta membership.
"Mr. Ward has said he would work for change at Augusta, and the club has said change is neither planned nor contemplated," she told the Chicago Tribune.
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) said during Tuesday's hearing, "I wouldn't belong to any group that had a rule that said gays or women or people of color couldn't belong to it."
Earlier, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had said, "Mr. Ward, if I might, you said life is about standing up for what you believe in," adding, "Do you think your membership in the Augusta National Golf Club is consistent with one of the major purposes of the United States Olympic Committee?"
Ward said that "those that would want me to resign" see his Augusta membership as a "privilege." He said he sees it as a "responsibility to open the door wider for those that might follow."
-- Alan Abrahamson