The Silence of Steve Elkington
Where have you gone Steve Elkington? Twitter turns its lonely eyes to you.
Any golf fan who has ever questioned the capacity of PGA Tour executives to effect change should consider this fact: Steve Elkington, the 1995 PGA champion and frequent controversialist, has tweeted almost 16,000 times since joining Twitter, but virtually nothing since a widely-condemned homophobic comment about gay footballer Michael Sam more than three months ago.
Since Elkington wasn’t quieted by previous Twitter-inspired controversies—a slur about “Pakis” in England and a boneheaded joke about a fatal helicopter crash onto a Scottish bar that killed 10 people, to single out but two snowflakes in a blizzard—we can reasonably assume that he isn’t given to periods of hushed reflection when his views are criticized.
Which raises the question of whether the PGA Tour has enjoined Elkington to silence on social media. Elkington told one writer that he was quickly instructed by the Tour to delete the offending tweet about Sam, in which he cracked that Sam was leading the “handbag throw” at the NFL combine. And when an absolute authority issues an order to hit ‘delete’—or even a friendly suggestion to pipe down—one would be best advised to consider it favorably, no?
Even if we generously assume Elkington’s ongoing Twitter muffling is self-imposed (his posts have largely been limited to retweeting other users photos), his recent absence from the Champions Tour may hint at a suspension. The Australian tied for 30th at the Ace Group Classic on February 16, launched his Sam missile on February 25, and then didn’t play again until the Greater Gwinnett Championship on April 18.
Admittedly, there were only two Champions Tour stops during those two months, but Elkington competed (and finished Top 10) in both of those tournaments last year. Is it merely a coincidence that he sat out each event this year? Or did a higher authority suggest that he ought to chill out at home in Houston for a while?
In the immediate aftermath of Elkington’s Sam tweet, the Tour issued this statement: “Under our regulations, conduct unbecoming a professional includes public commentary that is clearly inappropriate or offensive. With respect to this matter, and consistent with our longstanding policy, we do not comment on player disciplinary matters.” Since then, nothing.
So if Elkington was punished for his comment, we won’t be getting confirmation from Tour HQ, and the normally garrulous Aussie isn’t likely to reopen the wound himself.
Such sanctions are entirely within the remit of the Tour, and its members have gladly signed up for it. But if the executives in Ponte Vedra were appalled by Elkington’s widely publicized comment and believed his steady stream of ill-tempered Twitter rants were bringing the Tour into disrepute, wouldn’t a public rebuke have made more sense? It would have signaled that the Tour was prepared to act against inflammatory idiocy in its ranks.
But that’s not how the Tour conducts its disciplinary affairs, which is why l’affair Elk leaves an uncomfortable aftertaste.
The kangaroo court of social media is always too busy lining up the firing squad to hear from the accused. So much heat, yet so little illumination. So while we were all aware of the offense, scant time was given to whatever limp defense Elkington might have offered. That opportunity was lost to us again when the disciplinary hearing (if there was one) and punishment (if there was any) was conducted behind closed doors lest it bruise the Tour’s carefully constructed and lovingly tended image.
Some days Ponte Vedra doesn’t seem that far away from Pyongyang.
Elkington is a hard man to defend. His every public utterance on Twitter leaves the inescapable impression of an obnoxious boor, a laptop bombardier who never met a soft target he didn’t want to shell. But if that’s what floats his boat, so be it. Like many of our elected officials, he has the right to be an ignorant loudmouth. He is, if nothing else, painfully transparent.
The public has an equal right to disagree with anything Elkington says, but not to see him silenced because we’re offended. There is nothing more intellectually bankrupt than to put forth one’s personal sensitivities as the sole basis for punishing others.
But there is something to be said for his transparency, and not just because it exposes the ugliness that thrives on social media. In a world of cookie cutter Tour pros that stare vacantly if the subject matter veers away from Strokes Gained Putting stats, Elkington stands out as opinionated, mouthy, ill-informed, brash…anything but bland. Or he used to, before he was rendered a shadowy figure on Twitter, present but unaccounted for.
His apparent neutering on social media probably comforts many of Elkington’s outraged critics, as it surely does the Tour. But what is more worthy of the minor outrage being trafficked here? A privileged fool exposing his flaws, or a respected sports organization veiling its shortcomings?