COLLEGE PARK, MD. — In the early 1970s, tennis great Billie Jean King fought for equal rights in prize money. Muhammad Ali stood up against the Vietnam War and was temporarily banished from boxing.
Who will lead the fight today against the unwritten policy of the private Augusta National Golf Course home of the Masters golf tournament which denies membership to women?
The National Council of Women's Organizations brought the issue to light when its chair wrote to William Johnson, chairman of Augusta, asking the club to admit women. Mr. Johnson threw down the gauntlet. Augusta's timetable, he stated, "will not be dictated at the point of a bayonet."
There are many who could help Johnson see the light. But the champions seem to be hiding in the rough. Jack Nicklaus has said "that's not my issue." Tiger Woods who just witnessed the men-only rule in action at the British Open's Muirfield Club says clubs have a right to set their own rules.
There are also no champions among Masters sponsors Coca-Cola, IBM, and CBS. Where is the Professional Golf Association? PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem says his association has a long-term "recognition" with the Masters and doesn't plan to change that. Even woman golfers have been silent.
There is one potential champion: Lloyd Ward, an Augusta member, CEO of the US Olympic Committee, and an African-American. He says he feels strongly about discrimination against women and is lobbying Augusta quietly.
Like Mr. Ward, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt pushed for change from the inside. But when necessary, she went public. Consider the story of Marion Anderson, whom the Daughters of the American Revolution barred from singing in Constitution Hall in 1939. Mrs. Roosevelt, a DAR member, knew cajoling would not work. She resigned publicly, chastising the DAR, and helped arrange Anderson's concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
Leadership is the act of seizing the moment to right a wrong. I'm waiting to see who will have the courage to set Augusta straight.
Robin Gerber, senior scholar at the Academy of Leadership, is author of 'Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way' (Penguin-Putnam, October 2002).