Printed on: July 26, 2013

Hitting it out of bounds

David Adler
Guest columnist

Last week's British Open golf tournament did more than

entertain fans of the sport; it highlighted the need to combat gender discrimination, writes David Adler.

When the greatest golfers in the world gathered at the storied male-only club at Muirfield last week in pursuit of the British Open Championship, the staid, buttoned-up world of golf was confronted, yet again, with the lingering practice of gender discrimination.

Muirfield, probably the greatest links course in the championship rotation, where in the past the greatest of the greats have prevailed, provided a stage of distinction for another round of discussion on discrimination against women.

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R & A, which conducted the Open Championship, hit it out of bounds when he declared that "there's a massive difference between" gender discrimination and "racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, where sectors of society are downtrodden and treated very, very badly."

Dawson is wrong, of course, and his "reasoning" defies the measurements of odious discrimination, including what the U.S. Supreme Court has held as indefensible: discrimination based on "accidents of birth."

Denial of opportunities to people based on their race and gender, among other grounds, constitutes the essence of invidious discrimination. That's as true in the United States as it is in Scotland; indeed, it is a universal principle of human rights.

Dawson's defense of the exclusion of women was shredded by some of the world's great champions. It was described, variously as "archaic," "indefensible" and "weird," out of place in a world that features women as presidents and prime ministers.

The condemnation by men of an exclusionary policy that discriminates against women is welcome news. Across the course of America history, men have been slow to come to the defense of equal rights for women. A greater, and perhaps more satisfying story, however, is found in the narrative of women helping women. In this cause, we can hear the trumpet sound of victory when we consider those heroines who protested state laws that denied women access to contraceptives. We hear it as well in the voices of the suffragettes who demanded the right to vote, and in those who marched in the 1960s for independence and equal rights.

Each of these historic movements reaffirmed the lesson that those who would seek change, in the workplace or the political arena, should combine forces to initiate it. That's the lesson of empowerment.

It was two years ago that Karen Crouse, the gifted golf writer for the New York Times, announced at the conclusion of the Masters, held at Augusta National in Georgia, one of golf's greatest shrines, that she would not cover the tournament again until the male-only club opened its doors to women for admission.

Reporters usually report the news; they don't often make it. Crouse's courageous remarks spawned a tornado in the world of golf. The venerable Times, to its credit, supported her. Augusta National removed the controversy when it admitted its first two females two months before this year's event.

Crouse, who will deliver a keynote address at a major conference on women and leadership hosted by Boise State University's Andrus Center for Public Policy in September, recognized an injustice and illuminated it for the world to see. That's a tried and true way of battling gender discrimination in America.

Adler is the Director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, where he holds appointment as the Cecil D. Andrus Professor of Public Affairs. He also serves as Adjunct Professor of Law for the University of Idaho's College of Law, where he teaches courses on the Constitution and the Supreme Court. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Presidency.