On the first anniversary of the Ben Wright debacle, CBS finally made some apologies last week. However, none of them were directed at Valerie Helmbreck, the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal writer whose reputation was tainted by the network last year after she reported on Wright's views about lesbianism on the LPGA Tour.
The first mea culpa, on Tuesday of McDonald's LPGA Championship week, came from CBS Sports spokesperson Leslie Ann Wade, who, according to News Journal reporter Cris Barrish, "fell all over herself to apologize" during a telephone conversation. Barrish had called New York hoping to get golf anchor Jim Nantz's take on the Wright incident, but he was routed to Wade. When Wade did not mention Helmbreck during the course of her apology, Barrish inquired to whom she was apologizing. "To everybody who was offended," Wade replied.
CBS Sports coordinating producer Frank Chirkinian was certainly not on the same page as Wade. In loose-cannon fashion he told a reporter the day before that he would "like to see Ben back on [ CBS's] golf team." David Kenin, CBS's president of sports, apparently attempted to temper those remarks, saying, "I wouldn't want people to think [ Wright's return) is even an issue." Later Kenin even offered his own apologies, though again no mention was made of Helmbreck.
In an exclusive interview with SI, Nantz, while sitting in a network trailer at DuPont Country Club last Thursday, echoed Chirkinian's hope that Wright will someday return to the CBS broadcast booth. "No one wants me to talk," Nantz said, "[but] I have a lot of opinions about Ben. [His portrayal in the press] is not the Ben that I know."
Nantz went on to say that he feels unfairly vilified for remarks he made last year in the wake of the Helmbreck story. At the start of the third-round telecast Nantz, who was sitting next to Wright in the CBS tower on 18, announced that the network was "deeply disturbed by the inaccurate and distorted remarks attributed to [ Wright]." Last week, however, Nantz said those words were not his own but instead were part of a statement that CBS executives requested he read on the air. Before Nantz could elaborate, a CBS official urged him to stop talking. Nantz, however, added one final thought, saying, "I'm tired of walking on eggshells."
One person who has refused to walk on eggshells is LPGA commissioner Jim Ritts, who at this time last year was still a television executive in Knoxville, Tenn. Ritts spoke at length last week about the Wright incident, making sure everyone understood that he saw the anniversary as being more about Helmbreck. "The coin of the realm for journalists is their credibility," Ritts said. "And what can't get lost, what had to happen, was the restoration of Valerie Helmbreck's credibility.
She got the story right."