CBS follows the right course in cutting Wright loose from golf

Media Watch

January 10, 1996|By Milton Kent

Even if it wasn't for the right reason, and even if it was a few months late, CBS did the right thing yesterday in cutting Ben Wright loose from its golf telecasts.

The network was simply unwilling to continue to allow its golfing vehicle, which has become CBS' second most important ongoing sporting property after NCAA basketball, to be held hostage to repeated questions and criticism about Wright's presence on its coverage after remarks he was quoted as saying last May about women's golf.

In a three-paragraph statement issued yesterday, CBS Sports president David Kenin hinted at the need to separate Wright from the network, saying, "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, as well as the focus on the players and tournaments."

CBS' previous reluctance to turn tail on Wright, who had been with the network since 1972, likely came in part because of perceptions that it had bailed out early on Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder and Gary McCord after they made controversial statements. Their loyalty to Wright was, in a narrow sense, laudable.

But CBS could go no further with Wright in light of a recent Sports Illustrated article in which Wright tacitly admitted to making remarks to a reporter from the News Journal of Wilmington, Del., that women's golf suffered from a perception that lesbians were dominant, as well as a crude observation about the effect of breasts on a woman's swing.

In addition, Wright, who had been ordered by Kenin to keep quiet about the story, had joked about the incident in public and private gatherings. According to SI, he also said the News Journal reporter was divorced, involved in a custody battle and possibly a lesbian herself, all incorrect.

Oddly enough, Wright issued a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde statement through his agent yesterday.

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

He then apologized to the Wilmington reporter "for any hurt she may have experienced," adding, "I shall be more thoughtful, and I hope, more sensitive in the future."

While Wright, 63, will not return to golf broadcasts, the network will continue to pay him as a part of a four-year contract extension it inexplicably granted him last November. Justice may not always be swift, and it isn't even always pretty, as in this case, but it does happen, even in television.

Our man Keith

Baltimore's favorite ESPN sportscaster, Keith Olbermann, has been named one of TV Guide's top television performers for 1995, along with his tag-team partner Dan Patrick. It is a well-deserved honor, which we echoed last August when we named the pair the best anchor duo in sports television.

That award got to Olbermann right around the same time he received the runner-up trophy in the sports "Yutz of the Year" award in balloting conducted by Josh Lewin of WBAL (1090 AM).

In his recent Prodigy column, Olbermann said he had happily hung the trophy on the office wall "with the observation that everyone's entitled to an opinion [except if you're in Baltimore and you say anything about recent developments there that aren't either worshipful of the Orioles' lifetime .276 hitter or supportive of Maryland's stealing of somebody else's football team after somebody stole theirs]."

What a great new tourist slogan: "Baltimore: Where Free Thought and Freedom of Expression Go To Die!"

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