Supposedly the Medal of Freedom allows the occupant of the White House to award “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”.
In the latest news, however none of those concepts seem to apply to a golf player named Gary Player who is set to be awarded this supreme award. The primary explanation of his selection seems to be in this sentence:
Trump played with… Player last fall at his private club in northern Virginia.
Who is Player? What is he known for besides playing private club golf with someone in the White House?
The African Book Publishing Record (Volume 34, Issues 1-4 – Page 13) says he was
…often used by Pretoria as a virtual roving ambassador of apartheid…
“Selling Apartheid: South Africa’s Global Propaganda War” explains this in more detail on page 52:
By 1981 Player was widely confronted for his ongoing propagandist role promoting apartheid rule, according to “Off the court” by Arthur Ashe and Neil Amdur, page 147:
Gary Player, a South African, says, “I’m a golfer, not a politician,” when the media asks for his views. He’s a hypocrite. I would like Gary Player to address himself to the question of whether he favors apartheid or not — a simple yes or no would do…
This came as Player established in 1981 a “Million Dollar Challenge” tournament in Sun City, South Africa.
In 1987 Player was still being condemned for breaking boycotts of apartheid, internationally known for his continued high-profile role promoting white supremacist government. He is listed by name in the “Centre Against Apartheid, Department of Political and Security Council Affairs” report on page 11:
The Guardian provides a succinct note on Player’s reputation over time, in a 2007 story about Nelson Mandela distancing himself.
Mr Player is not known for his sensitivity to the plight of the downtrodden. He described apartheid South Africa as “maligned, misunderstood, pilloried” after he was heckled while playing abroad.
He was closely tied to the ruling National party during the 1970s as a member of a clique that launched a pro-apartheid newspaper with the help of illegal government funding.
He has also been criticized for failing to speak up on behalf of his country’s best-known golfer of Indian descent, Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum, who was forced in 1963 to stand in the rain to accept a major trophy because he wasn’t allowed inside the racially exclusive Durban Country Club. Mr Player later said he welcomed Mr Sewgolum playing in South African tournaments because he brought “colour” to golf.
Adding confusion to the history, is Player’s own version, where he sees himself as a change agent (claiming in 1961 he asked for Mandela to be free although he was jailed in 1962, and that in 1971 he formally asked for apartheid in sport to end). Compare that to his habit of using Mandela’s voice for non-change, the program of reconciliation instead of equality after apartheid.
- CBC interview: “I said, ‘I have so much admiration for you.’ I said to him, ‘It is remarkable, how can you not have revenge?’”
- TimesLive interview: “I said ‘Mr Mandela you must hate white people and have tremendous amount revenge’. “He said ‘to the contrary‚ I have no hatred and no revenge…”
He also complained in 1993, quoted in “Golf’s Global Ambassador from South Africa” that as someone from a “brainwashed” white supremacist background he found it unfair to be expected to change and oppose apartheid if American golfers weren’t facing opposition to the Vietnam War.
Instead of explaining why this illogical whataboutism by Player is so morally bankrupt, perhaps I only need to point out how the official history of Pebble Beach indeed recounts 1972 opposition to the Vietnam War in the face of Nicklaus and what he thought of it:
Overall, while Player clearly has tried for decades to rehabilitate his image after gladly becoming the internationally condemned face of an apartheid regime, as if he actually wanted to be a change agent… he also was very much a fan of weak reconciliation after apartheid to preserve white economic domination. Seems like a “nice guy” opportunist who has been more than willing to go along with whatever regime or leader can make him rich quickest.
Just not seeing his qualification for such an award.
I guess the next question could be whether he was involved in the NRA campaign to funnel guns through a boycott into the apartheid government, or involved in Ronald Reagan’s aborted Seychelles coup involving golfers of the “Ancient Order of Froth Blowers”. Those could at least explain rewarding him from some clandestine security angle, playing a role to help massage American business interests with the apartheid regime (per the Nixon-era white nationalist “Tar Baby” foreign policy as described in 1976).