Over the weekend, Augusta National held the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur championship, a legitimately cool and necessary event. Augusta National has a horrible history with women; the club infamously didn’t admit a woman as a member until 2012, and broadcast the Masters commercial free in 2003 and 2004 at the height of the external pressure.
Any reasonable view is that the event is a fantastic thing that was long overdue. Watching Jennifer Kupcho eagle 13 in competition en route to a comeback win was thrilling golf (aired on NBC, not CBS), and the whole thing did help serve to break down barriers that Augusta National themselves erected and enforced for a very long time. But Augusta National reaping positive press over this feels odd, too; the only reason this sort of thing is groundbreaking in 2019 is because of their regressive treatment of women throughout the years.
— Augusta National Women's Amateur (@anwagolf) April 6, 2019
That’s not to say Augusta should be wholly vilified, of course, nor should they feel like they can’t promote what they’re doing. That thinking helps foster resentment to change. But what we should expect is some humility, some acknowledgment that they were in the wrong for decades, and that this is a move towards penance, rather than an example of the club breaking a glass ceiling. Instead we got comparisons to Marie Curie.
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Through sheer force of will, after a childhood full of setbacks and false starts, Marie Curie educated herself and fell in love with science. Curie’s relentless pursuit of learning led her to become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1903. Pioneers like these inspire #ANWAgolf
If Augusta National needs an example of how to do things like this, maybe they should look at what the WWE did at WrestleMania. (Aside: is there anything funnier than the idea of a bunch of Augusta stuffed shirts who organize everything down to the tightest of details being told that professional wrestling did something better?) At WrestleMania, Kofi Kingston won the WWE Championship by beating Daniel Bryan, and in the process becoming the first black wrestler to hold that title. (The Rock is of mixed descent.)
WWE, obviously, is scripted television, overseen entirely by Vince McMahon. The reason that no black wrestler had held the WWE Championship is because Vince McMahon had never allowed a black wrestler to hold the championship. That is obviously terrible! Kingston has been consistently competing for over a decade, and last night was his first WWE Championship match.
But what separates WWE from Augusta National here is that in the weeks leading up to the match, the storyline focused on that history, walking a very fine line along the way. McMahon himself played a big part of the build, continually stacking the odds against Kingston in ways that mirrored what he’s actually done offscreen. He set himself up as the villain, although less cartoonishly than McMahon has in the past.
“Kofi, if you were worthy of being in a championship match, it would have happened a long time ago. You’re impressive! Some of the things you do, you’re an extraordinary athlete. You’re an extraordinary representative of our product.”
The whole build made it impossible to separate WWE’s history of treating black wrestlers poorly from what we were seeing unfold, and while that could have come across as tasteless, it actually ended up serving as a way for WWE and McMahon specifically to admit they were the people responsible for holding these doors closed, and it allowed Kingston, his teammates in The New Day, and his family to be the heroes of the story, and of their moment.
The entire thing made plenty of viewers nervous, of course, because if Kingston had lost the match, it would have been incredibly offensive, essentially confirming the wealthy white owner’s belief that the athletic black man wasn’t worthy after all.
WHEW BUDDY rasslin please stick the landing on this particular story
— Executive Producer Dick Wolf (@JasonKirkSBN) April 8, 2019
Fortunately, they did stick that landing.
WWE has walked this tightrope somewhat less successfully in other ways, of course; their ongoing push for women’s wrestling has certainly resulted in big moments for some incredibly talented women, including last night’s first ever women’s main event at WrestleMania. But WWE’s history with women is just as bad as their history with minority wrestlers, and they’ve done a much worse job admitting they were the driving force behind decades of lingerie matches and other things that didn’t really play that well in 2000, much less 2019.
WWE and Augusta National might never be mentioned together again, but for one weekend they were tackling the same problem: how can an organization do something it knows it should have done a long time ago without pretending otherwise? The Kingston story, though, was an example of how an organization can do something it knows it should have done a long time ago without pretending otherwise. Augusta National’s approach, and some of the fawning coverage that ensued, was not.
Hopefully Jennifer Kupcho and Kofi Kingston enjoy their championships, though. They certainly both deserve them.