Citi Giving Justin Thomas Rare Chance to Grow From Mistake After Anti-Gay Slur on Course

Instead of cutting ties with Thomas, Citi is hoping to offer him, and others, a lesson

Citi Sticking With Justin Thomas ... If He Learns From Mistake
Justin Thomas plays a shot ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Instead of cutting ties with Justin Thomas after he clearly uttered a homophobic slur on live television when he missed an easy putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Citi is is taking a different approach and will continue to sponsor the 27-year-old golfer.

But Citi’s continued sponsorship of Thomas will require him to donate a “meaningful portion” of his fee to mutually agreed upon LGBTQ organizations, as well as actively use his public platform to gain support for the LGBTQ community and increase awareness about the continuing discrimination it faces.

It’s a novel approach another one of Thomas’s longtime sponsors, Ralph Lauren, opted not to take and instead cut ties with the world’s third-ranked golfer six days after the slur.

“We are disheartened by Mr. Thomas’s recent language, which is entirely inconsistent with our values,” the fashion company said in a statement. “While we acknowledge that he has apologized and recognizes the severity of his words, he is a paid ambassador of our brand and his actions conflict with the inclusive culture that we strive to uphold. In reflecting on the responsibility we have to all of our stakeholders, we have decided to discontinue our sponsorship of Mr. Thomas at this time.”

While acknowledging some people within her own organization wanted to sever ties with Thomas, Citi chief marketing officer Carla Hassan said the company ultimately decided using the situation as an opportunity to create change was the best decision.

“We want to do more than make it clear that it is wrong to use this word,” wrote in a blog post explaining Citi’s decision to keep Thomas. “Instead, we hope our efforts can lead more people to make an affirmative choice not to use this word or others like it — and to speak up when others do — because they understand the impact it can have, including on a friend, colleague or teammate who may be struggling with the decision to disclose their sexual orientation.”

Thomas, for his part, did apologize for the remark and has been open to discussing it.

The situation involving Thomas and Citi’s decision to help him better himself and learn from it instead of kicking him to the curb is somewhat reminiscent of a recent incident involving Charles Howell III, the world’s 122nd-ranked golfer.

At last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Howell told a collection of media members a bizarre story about donning blackface to imitate Tiger Woods and driving around to attract attention.

Though none of the media members in attendance outed Howell, one of them, Michael Williams, did confront him about the story with a PGA Tour rep in earshot. When Howell’s sponsor eventually found out about the incident, he was required to undergo racial sensitivity training.

Howell learned a lot in those sessions and turned his learnings into actions by partnering with the Advocates Pro Golf Association (APGA), a small pro circuit that provides a gateway for minority golfers to improve in hopes of making the PGA Tour.

Eventually Williams met with Howell and they discussed both the blackface story and the fallout from it.

“It became clear that our interaction at Pebble Beach was far more impactful for him than it was for me,” Williams wrote of the conversation. “Golfers are unique because they are required to know the rules and call penalties on themselves. Howell had come to understand that he had made two mistakes, the clumsy blackface prank and the use of it as an amusing anecdote, and he was calling the penalty on himself.”

Hopefully, Thomas will do something similar, genuinely, and Citi should be applauded for giving him the opportunity to do it, whether it ends up happening or not.

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