Senator implores PGA Tour to protect its players’ free speech

Senator implores PGA Tour to protect its players’ free speech
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One of the topics discussed during Tuesday’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing involving the PGA Tour’s recent framework deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was a non-disparagement clause within the agreement.

The clause can be found in the ninth paragraph of the agreement – it was added during the third revision of a lengthy editing period, and all the revisions were included in a batch of documents released by the Senate committee on Tuesday morning – and it states the following:

Each party agrees and covenants that it will not at any time, directly or indirectly, make, publish or communicate to any person or entity or in any public forum any defamatory or disparaging remarks, comments, or statements concerning the other Party, their affiliates and ultimate beneficial owners or their respective businesses, directors, employees, officers, shareholders, members or advisors.

The clause is vague, though it’s been widely interpreted that it would prevent the Tour – and perhaps by extension its players – from saying anything negative or critical about Saudi Arabia, of which the PIF is the sovereign wealth fund.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, chair of the committee, expressed great concern over the clause while the PGA Tour’s COO Ron Price and policy board member Jimmy Dunne, who participated in the hearing on the Tour’s behalf, contended that such clauses are common during ongoing business negotiations between two parties. Dunne elaborated that such clause would have a “short-term life” until a definitive is reached.

“We also don’t know what will happen to players who may want to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s human-rights abuses; they apparently are bound by the non-disparagement clause,” Blumenthal stated during his opening remarks.

Blumenthal later noted that LIV players are currently “barred from saying anything negative about any relevant person, including members of the PIF governing apparatus.” He then asked Price and Dunne to promise that the finalized deal between the Tour and PIF “not prevent players or PGA Tour executives from commenting on or criticizing actions by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” He also pressed Price and Dunne to commit to the Tour not punishing its members for such criticism and protecting player expression, even if it meant going to court again with the PIF.

Congress doesn’t have authority to prevent merger

While Senators Ron Johnson and Rand Paul cautioned Blumenthal for asking members of a private organization to make assurances other than that they’ll follow the law, with Johnson saying such action was not appropriate for a government official, both Price and Dunne addressed Blumenthal’s requests.

Price noted that he did not interpret the current clause to prevent players from speaking their mind on any matter, but he also said, “I wouldn’t recommend [any clause that would limit players’ free speech] to the policy board for approval.”

Dunne added: “I will inform the entire board of your excellent point, and I’ll guarantee you the board will vote on it; I don’t have the power to decide that, but we hear you, we understand, and I’ll advocate for it.”

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