Gary Player hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during the final round of the PNC Championship at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club. Photo: AFP
Gary Player hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during the final round of the PNC Championship at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club. Photo: AFP

Gary Player may have supported apartheid but now’s the time to politely refuse Donald Trump’s Medal of Freedom

By Mark Keohane, Opinion Time of article published Jan 16, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - Marc Player earlier this week described his father Gary as “tone deaf” for accepting Donald Trump’s Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“In Denial, Wrong!” tweeted Marc of (Gary) Player’s decision to be honoured by the outgoing US President in the same week of the pro-trump mob’s riot and attack on the US Capitol.

Player, a nine-time Major winner, and South Africa’s most celebrated professional golfer, is 85 years old, but even in these twilight years there was no seeing the bigger picture. All that mattered to Player was Player. It has always been the case for Gary Player.

“I really wish my father would have simply and politely declined this ‘award’ at this time, from this man (Trump),” tweeted (son) Marc. “This is what I wished my father @ garyplayer would have done and what I strongly urge him still to do. It is not too late to simply return it with gratitude and retain some honour, dignity and self-respect.”

Player, a brilliant golfer, has always polarised as a person because of his political views.

More significant than his nine career Majors and 24 wins on the PGA tour, were his comments, made as a 30-year-old, in his book Grand Slam of Golf.

In the book, published in 1966, Player wrote: “I must say now, and clearly, that I am of the South Africa of Verwoerd and apartheid.”

This week the online platform New Frame revisited Player’s infamous words and his absolute conviction as an ambassador for the apartheid regime.

New Frame highlighted how Player declared that “a good deal of nonsense is talked of and indeed thought about segregation” and insisted that “segregation of one kind or another is practised everywhere in the world”.

Player then described South Africa as a “nation which is the result of an African graft on European stock and which is the product of its instinct to maintain civilised values and standards among the alien barbarians”.

This is the same Gary Player, who in 1965, described Papwa as having “chipped like a man from Mars” when Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum beat him to the Natal Open title.

Sewgolum, in Player’s world, may have been from Mars because while Player and his white mates enjoyed the luxury of the Durban Country clubhouse after the event, Sewgolum was not allowed inside the clubhouse to receive his trophy as the winner.

Sewgolum, born in a tin shanty in Riverside, about a kilometre from the then allwhite Beachwood Golf Club, had to stand in the rain outside the clubhouse to be crowned champion because he was not white.

Suminthra with the shield honouring her husband, Sewsunker ‘Papwa’ Sewgolum, who was recently inducted into the Southern Hemisphere Golf Hall of Fame. The golfer’s wife is flanked by their grandsons, Nisharlan and Shaun.

Player had no objection to that situation in 1965 and 55 years later, the condemnation of Player was that he had no objection in accepting an honour from Trump.

The overseas media described the moment: “The legendary golfer who helped prop up the apartheid regime will be awarded a prestigious prize by a president who has been accused of being a white supremacist and has made racist remarks.”

Player, in several books written on the apartheid government, in the 1970s and 1980s aligned with the government to fight international sporting and business restrictions. Player was the government conduit for many business investments into apartheid South Africa.

Player, as a sports person and individual, benefited from apartheid South Africa, and it was only once Nelson Mandela had assumed the presidency of South Africa in the 1990s, that he very conveniently denounced apartheid.

Player’s words and actions were aligned in the prime of his career with apartheid South Africa. He was a disciple of a whitesonly world. But his failure to appreciate the consequence of accepting Trump’s Presidential Award showed that his post-apartheid words on a democratic South Africa differ a lot with his actions.

Had Player seen the light and lived in that light, he would have politely refused his good mate Trump’s award.

Player loves to preach and loves to talk about his own virtues, his own professionalism and his own standards of excellence and integrity, but if you want to know about integrity Mr Player, give the record-holding six-times Superbowl-winning coach Bill Belichick a call.

Belichick, at the helm of the New Patriots, also got awarded Trump’s Presidential Medal of Freedom. But he did not accept it.

“I was flattered out of respect for what the honour represents and admiration for prior recipients,” Belichick wrote in a statement. “Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award.”

Belichick, like Player, has always been a huge supporter of Trump and in 2016 described Trump as the “ultimate competitor and fighter”.

However, this week he wrote that “above all, I am an American citizen with great reverence for our nation’s values, freedom and democracy.”

On this basis, he said it was just not right to take the award from Trump.

Lawrence Donegan, on social media, wrote: “As @garyplayer accepts his little medal from a disgraced American president never let it be forgotten that in his prime Player was a blood racist and the global face of the apartheid South African regime.’

Who, you may ask, is Donegan, with his mere 870 Twitter followers?

For me he is an individual who powerfully, brutally and so accurately described the legacy of Gary Player the person, when most only ever fawn over the legacy of an iconic golfer, who won nine majors.

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