The Real Champion

With his recent rant against Kelly Tilghman, Al Sharpton tried to set himself up as the racial champion for professional golf. Instead of highlighting real racism, he just created a problem where there wasn’t one and called attention to himself, rather than the real problems of racism in our society today.

The real champion for racial equality in professional golf goes back more than half a century to a little known, but heroic nontheless, golfer named Bill Spiller. In 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson, he attempted (and eventually succeeded) in getting the rules changed for professional golf, clearing the way for the likes of Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, and eventually [[Tiger]].

Sixty years ago, in January 1948, Bill Spiller and Ted Rhodes traveled to Richmond, Calif., to play in the Richmond Open. They had finished in the top 60 in the Los Angeles Open two weeks earlier and, according to tour regulations, were automatically qualified into the field at Richmond… After finishing a Tuesday practice round at Richmond CC, [they] were told by George Schneiter, the PGA’s on-site tournament representative (and himself a competitor), that they would not be allowed to play in the tournament. The reason? They were not members of the PGA of America, a requirement for competing in tournaments it co-sponsored. Catch-22! Spiller and Rhodes could not join the association, because a clause in its constitution allowed membership only to Caucasians. Spiller had heard through the rumor mill of this blatantly racist restriction but had never seen it in writing or in any other official form. He went to Richmond to find out if it was indeed the case. By virtue of his resolute curiosity, this well-kept secret was made public for the first time.

Spiller went to court, was placated, but still not allowed to play due to back room dealings (similar to the Gentleman’s Agreement in major league baseball). He never gave up, and eventually got the rules changed, and in 1961 the caucasian only clause was removed from the PGA of America’s constitution. Like Robinson, he risked everything to fight an injustice, but unlike Robinson, was never really able to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Al Sharpton really needs to learn some lessons from Spiller, and pick fights to solve problems rather than to just himself into the spotlight.