‘I personally hear what’s going on’
Triplett shines light on racial justice issues with Black Lives Matter sticker
November 02, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
For Kirk Triplett, Black Lives Matter is personal
Kirk Triplett, he of the ever-present bucket hat, has had better years, golf-wise. He has three wins on the PGA TOUR and eight on PGA TOUR Champions – two of those in 2019.
But never had Triplett, 58, made news like he did when he put a Black Lives Matter sticker on his golf bag at the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship at Firestone Country Club in August.
“Just to say that I personally hear what’s going on and I’m in agreement that issues of racial equality and social justice need to be addressed,” he says of his decision to apply the sticker after the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others. It will remain on the bag as he finishes the season close to home at this week’s Charles Schwab Championship at Phoenix Country Club.
Sometimes the biggest statements start with the smallest gestures, and so it was with Triplett, who estimates he has given somewhere between 10 and 20 media interviews since his BLM sticker caught people’s attention. Mostly, he says, the response has been positive. Sometimes, he admits, it’s been virulently negative. But he’s not alone in the cause.
At the TOUR Championship in September, PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan pledged $100 million to support racial and social justice causes over the next 10 years. Charles Howell III is offering performance-based bonuses on the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour, which aims to bolster diversity at all levels of golf. Then there’s Triplett’s large, square sticker, displayed prominently under his name on his PING staff bag.
The golfer and his family – wife Cathi; twin biological sons Conor and Sam, 24; and adoptees Alexis, 20, and Kobe, 18 – all had a say in the sticker, and they all agreed that the time was right. Kobe is African American, which took on new meaning given the high-profile events of last spring and summer, plus the fact that he had recently gotten his driver’s license.
What if he had an encounter with the police? What if someone misinterpreted a gesture or a comment? Who would deescalate? What would that look like? Who would be nominally responsible for a safe outcome, and on whose shoulders would it actually fall?
The complexity and urgency of these questions, and the fact that they would land on Kobe as opposed to Conor, Sam and Alexis, struck Triplett as unfair.
“We talked about it at home during the pandemic,” he says. “I had a lot of time off, and at the behest of a couple of my kids – the sticker was actually bought by one of my older sons. Because the message in my family is often, ‘OK, you’re talking a good game, what are you going to do?’ So he gave me the sticker and said, ‘Here’s this in case you’re ready to do something.’”
Triplett was. There was no freighted ceremony – he just put the sticker on the bag.
It didn’t take long to get noticed.A look at Kirk Triplett's bag in October at the SAS Championship. (Chris Keane/Getty Images)
“I really didn’t consider that there was going to be all of this media interest, and that’s because I was involved in my own personal journey,” he says. “To understand that Kobe had to behave differently than my other three kids really brought home the point for me that hey, there’s some racism there. It made me want to participate in some way and send a message to the African American community that hey, I hear what you’re saying for the first time.
“I’m 58 years old and just beginning to understand,” he continues. “It’s not an easy thing to get. When you understand it’s different, you go, Oh, this is a problem.”
Online commenters have occasionally seemed intent on a back-and-forth that Triplett says he isn’t interested in having. On a more personal level, some have told him that while it’s great that he adopted an African American son, he’s gone the wrong way with the sticker.
“That helped me understand the frustration level that a lot of African American people must feel,” he says. “It gave me an idea for the first time what the word systemic means. Dealing with overt racism is probably significantly easier because it has a face, it has a person that’s doing something that’s pointing right at you. But when the system is doing it and there’s no face, like this is just kind of the way things are, where do you go with that? How do you explain that to people? And I just got a little teeny, tiny part of that.”
He will peel the sticker off, eventually. He wants to do more than make a statement; he wants to take a more hands-on, boots-on-the-ground approach to the problems of injustice.
“Golfers are predisposed to help those in their community that need help,” he says. “The first step is acknowledging that there are issues that need to be addressed. Some of it is opportunity. If you walk into a golf shop, you don’t very often see an African American guy standing behind the counter, even. You need more penetration into all aspects of golf.”
Although son Sam, who played for Northwestern, is trying to make it as a pro golfer, Kobe isn’t really into golf. He’s more interested in computers. Whenever Triplett asks his youngest son if he wants to go to the course, he gets the same answer: “Maybe tomorrow, Dad.”
That’s fine for an 18-year-old high school senior contemplating nine holes or hitting a bucket of balls. But for Triplett and the TOUR, for Howell and too many others to count, that answer was no longer sufficient on the issue of racial justice. It was time. It was past time. For them, as it was for so many Americans and others, tomorrow was today. The sticker is just the start.