South African golf legend, Gary Player received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump on Thursday, January 7, just a day after widespread chaos broke out in Washington D.C. when a mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol building.
Player (85) was joined by Swede, Annika Sorenstam, at a closed-door ceremony in the East Room of the White House. American, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, also received the award posthumously.
Today President Trump will award the Medal of Freedom to golfers Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player, as well as Olympian Babe Zaharias, a White House official confirms to @CBSNews. It is not on the public schedule, meaning that as of now the press will not have access to the event
— Sara Cook (@saraecook) January 7, 2021
The three join elite company as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Charlie Sifford and Tiger Woods are the only other golfers to receive the United States’ greatest civilian honour, according to Golfweek.
The golfers drew staunch criticism for their decision to accept the award so soon after the violent insurrection that was inspired by Trump himself. Golfweek columnist Christine Brennan chastised the pair, saying, “Sorenstam and Player, widely regarded as paragons of sportsmanship and honour in their game, did not cancel on Trump.”
“No. They willingly chose to accept an award from Trump and be seen with him a day after his words and actions launched one of the most shameful incidents in US history.”
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 7, 2021
Closer to home, many South Africans did not take kindly to Player’s decision. His son, Marc Player took to Twitter to express his disapproval.
Player “once supported his nation’s racist policy of apartheid before later denouncing it,” wrote Brennan, saying he is an “understandable Trump ally.” He is one of only 51 people and organisations that Donald Trump follows on Twitter, according to The South African.
The golfer has a history of being a global ambassador for the apartheid regime, according to New Frame, and his relationship with Trump has exacerbated this memory for many.
In 1966, 30-year-old Player, wrote: “I must say now, and clearly, that I am of the South Africa of Verwoerd and apartheid,” in his book ‘Grand Slam Golf’.
As @garyplayer today accepts his little medal from a disgraced American president never let it be forgotten that in his prime Player was a blood racist and the global face of the apartheid South African regime. pic.twitter.com/zCeGRRbKzv
— lawrencedonegan (@lawrencedonegan) January 7, 2021
Player won the PGA Tour 24 times and is one of just five players to win the career Grand Slam. He won nine major championships in his career.
Picture: Wikimedia Commons