After saying the wrong thing, Justin Thomas has done the right thing.
It may not bring back his endorsement agreement with the Ralph Lauren company but the way in which Thomas has responded to the homophobic slur he dropped while on camera during the Sentry Tournament of Champions is an example of owning his actions.
Too many times we’ve seen people – athletes, politicians or celebrities – who make a mistake and do their best to sidestep full responsibility.
It doesn’t change what he said – it was right there for the whole world to hear – but Thomas has accepted his mistake, made multiple apologies and, perhaps most importantly, talked about how he will be a better person because of his unfortunate comment.
I believe him.
“It’s humiliating; it’s embarrassing; it’s not me. It’s not a word that I use, but for some reason, it was in there."
What he said was unacceptable but his willingness to talk publicly about his mistake has been revealing. He could have chosen to take the “I’ve said all I’m going to say about that” path but he hasn’t.
Instead, he has been open with his feelings. He’s shared his own disappointment. Rather than be defensive, he’s been contrite. Thomas would, no doubt, prefer to be done with the matter but he’s stood in the spotlight rather than hide in the shadows.
He has shown a measure of grace in the aftermath of a storm he created.
Cynics will argue that he’s doing damage control, trying to protect the sponsorship deals he has and that he showed his true colors with what he said at Kapalua. I prefer to think he is sincere in what he has said about what he did, how it made others feel and the effect it has had on him.
It’s easy for us to judge public figures, especially when they screw up, but how they handle their failures probably says more about them than what caused the issue in the first place. Thomas knows not everyone will give him the benefit of the doubt and has revealed he will take part in a training program as a result of his actions.
“It’s humiliating; it’s embarrassing; it’s not me,” Thomas said last week in Abu Dhabi. “It’s not a word that I use, but for some reason, it was in there.
“And that's what I’m trying to figure out as to why it was in there, and just like I said, it’s going to be a part of this process and training program or whatever I need to do, not only to prove to myself but prove to my sponsors and prove to those people that don’t know who I am that that is indeed not the person I am.”
When Ralph Lauren Corp. announced it was discontinuing its sponsorship of Thomas, it was a decision the company made because “his actions conflict with the inclusive culture that we strive to uphold.” While noting Thomas’s multiple public apologies, the company felt it was in its best interest to move forward without him.
That’s the company’s prerogative. Other companies have chosen to stick with Thomas. Neither decision is wrong.
“At the end of the day, they have that right,” Thomas said. “They had to make the decision that they had to make. I spoke with them along with all my sponsors.
“Although I apologized, it’s like it was then: It’s an opportunity for me to grow and I felt like it was something we could have done together and gone through that process. They just felt like they needed to move on. That’s exactly what I’m doing, as well.”
Thomas keeps talking about how he can learn from this moment. The rest of us can learn, too.
It should make us think not just about what he said but about how we react. Most of us don’t have cameras and microphones capturing our every public move but we all have a conscience. Hopefully, we know when we’ve done or said something we should not have.
There was a time when professional golfers played just for themselves. They might wear a logo but they didn’t wear them like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Nor did the media – social, traditional or otherwise – inhale everything they do.
It’s different now. Had a player in 25th place on Sunday said the same thing Thomas did when the cameras weren’t on him been able to skate? Probably.
But Thomas is the third-ranked player in the world. He has been a shining example of excellence on the PGA Tour and he put an ugly smudge on the image.
He has also shown us his better side in the aftermath and that’s worthy of praise.
“Obviously what he said was offensive to a large portion of the population, but again, he’ll be better for it,” Rory McIlroy said. “He’ll learn and he’ll move on, and look, he’ll be just as good a golfer as he’s always been, and if anything, it will probably just make him a better person than he already is, which is hard because he’s already a great guy.”
One who, in learning a hard lesson, is providing a lesson in doing the right thing.