Two years after making racially insensitive comments about LPGA golfers who were competing in the U.S. Women’s Open, golf commentator Hank Haney has lost his federal lawsuit against the PGA Tour for allegedly interfering with his radio and TV career.
In an order issued on Aug. 19, U.S. District Judge Rodolfo Ruiz II granted summary judgment to the PGA Tour.
Haney’s legal approach, Judge Ruiz drily wrote, “has found water [and] the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not provide for mulligans.”
The genesis of the case occurred on May 29, 2019. During a SiriusXM broadcast featuring Haney, 65, and co-host Steve Johnson, the two men had the following exchange:
Johnson: This week is the 47th U.S. Women’s Open, Hank.
Haney: Oh it is? I’m gonna predict a Korean.
Johnson: OK, that’s a pretty safe bet.
Haney: I couldn’t name you six players on the LPGA Tour. Maybe I could. Well…I’d go with Lee. If I didn’t have to name a first name, I’d get a bunch of them right.
Johnson: We’ve got six Lees.
The broadcast sparked criticisms of intolerance and bigotry. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan wrote, “If Haney is not fired from that job . . . and every other role he plays in golf . . . then the leadership of the game, the PGA Tour and SiriusXM is condoning racism, sexism and xenophobia, while basically telling everyone who isn’t a white male that golf is not the sport for them.”
Haney issued a formal apology in which he explained, “In an effort to make a point about the overwhelming success of Korean players on the tour I offended people, and I am sorry.” In Haney’s complaint filed in December 2019, his attorneys argued their client’s “statements were not intended to be disrespectful or ethnically insensitive in any manner.” They also stressed that six of the women competing in the tournament were named “Lee” and noted, “his prediction was correct: The winner was Jeongeun Lee of South Korea.”
As to the PGA Tour and SiriusXM, the two companies issued a joint statement after the broadcast blasting Haney’s comments as “insensitive.” The statement also revealed that, “at the PGA Tour’s instruction, Mr. Haney has been suspended from the SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio channel.”
Haney, a former coach to Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara, did not return to SiriusXM. By early June 2019, Haney and his attorneys had negotiated a financial buyout of his contract. Several months later he launched the Hank Haney Podcast with iHeartMedia, Inc.
Haney’s federal complaint maintains the PGA Tour illegally interfered with his contractual and business relationship with SiriusXM. He claims the PGA Tour began a smear campaign against him in 2012, the year when he released his book, The Big Miss. The book detailed Haney’s work as Woods’ swing coach during the 2000s. Haney maintains the PGA Tour “induced” retailers to cancel orders and “worked to discredit Haney and his book release.” The PGA Tour’s alleged behavior, Haney insists, was “because the PGA Tour is financially damaged by negative press about Woods,” whom Haney’s book at times portrayed in a critical light. The problem with Haney’s allegation, Judge Ruiz wrote, is that Haney “has no personal knowledge or otherwise admissible evidence to support this allegation.”
Judge Ruiz leveled the same criticism against Haney’s other theories of liability.
Haney accuses the PGA Tour of (1) pressuring the Golf Channel to discontinue his show, The Haney Project, in 2013; (2) urging Avis to cancel a deal with him in 2016; and (3) nudging Callaway Golf to decline to renew its contract with Haney in 2019. Haney’s evidence for these contentions, Judge Ruiz concluded, were limited to speculation and inadmissible hearsay.
Haney can appeal Judge Ruiz’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.