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Larry Wilmore Defends Golf to Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell attacked golf and country clubs last month, now Wilmore is ready to challenge him on it

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Last month on Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell attacked golf, calling it "crack cocaine for rich white guys." He uncovered how, at least in California, there are state laws that deflate the amount of taxes golf courses pay on their property. His show sparked plenty of discussion around the internet, and now he joins Larry Wilmore, a golf enthusiast, on the latest episode of Black on the Air to defend his position.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Wilmore: Now, I feel as an attack of country clubs, [it’s] completely valid. But you go after golf itself. And I’m like, "Wait, hold on a second, Malcolm." Why are you attacking the game? This is what we call player-hating on golf, because there’s no reason to go after the game of golf. If you’re going after country clubs, I understand. But golf? You’re going after the game? That doesn’t even make sense to me.

Gladwell: Well no, no. I’m setting up the argument. It’s pretty important to the argument. The point is that understanding golf is an addiction explains why rich white people in Los Angeles went to such extraordinary measures to hoodwink the public into giving them a tax break. So it’s necessary to understand the crime here. To understand the thing that drove them to the crime. The mahjong society of Beverly Hills didn’t get a constitutional amendment passed to protect mahjong, did they? Why? Because mahjong is not an addiction.

Wilmore: No, no.

Gladwell: But golf is an addiction! … I’ll make my argument in a different way. Why, if I’m going to go after the country clubs of Los Angeles, why would I pass up a perfectly good opportunity to go after the game of golf?

Wilmore: No!

Gladwell: Too much fun! Too much fun! Wait, I cannot believe you of all people are calling me to task for taking on a sacred cow. … I remember your absolutely brilliant [White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington]. That was one of the high-water marks of my last decade — was like watching those guys squirm. If someone had come up to you afterward and said, "Larry, you didn’t have to go that far," [what would your answer have been]?

Wilmore: It’s true, everybody said that. And they were probably right.

Gladwell: No, and the quick answer is, "Fuck you!" I’m not going to pass up that opportunity. They’re all a bunch of fat cats. Let them squirm for 20 minutes. That’s the right answer.

Wilmore: Well, the correct answer for me was, "You are correct. You would not do that. You are correct. I would do it. You are correct." Right? The fact that you would not do it is exactly why I would do it. But yes, I completely get your point, Malcolm. I’m giving you a hard time about this because I love sports and I have — and I know how — you’re snotty about certain sports, and I know that about you already.

Gladwell: Yeah, totally, I am. You play golf, right? You must play golf.

Wilmore: Of course I play golf! But I don’t just play golf, I play lots of sports. But golf is a great game. And the game of golf, by the way, is a very democratic game. It’s not just a country club game. It’s one of the few things that you can go out and just play with strangers who you’ve never met before and have an amazing time.

Gladwell: Which exclusive country club do you belong to, Larry? Come on.

Wilmore: Oh, stop it with the country club. Those are two different things, Malcolm. This is what I’m trying to tell you. I have played golf all over the world. But it’s not a defense of the clique of golf. This is a defense of, I feel, the not understanding of the actual game of golf, which is different. That’s all I’m saying. You’re hating on the game. Yes, I know, I know. I’m giving you a hard time.

Gladwell: My tongue was planted firmly in my cheek every time I was doing it.

Wilmore: Yes, I figured that. I figured that. But we have to take you out and play some golf sometime. It is a great game for kids, by the way, too. One of the fun things about golf when you’re teaching it to children is the self-responsibility of it, where they are completely responsible for everything that happens in it. And it’s a good thing because it teaches kids that this is a game, that it doesn’t create character, it kind of reveals your character. It kind of reveals who you are.