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
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."
COLOR PHOTO: In the wake of the fiasco, Nantz says he was told to read the company line. [Jim Nantz]