June 30, 2022

‘I Have Deep Empathy for Them’: Phil Mickelson Responds to Criticism from 9/11 Families over Saudi-Backed Golf League

Phil Mickelson
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Golfer Phil Mickelson is expressing “deep empathy” with 9/11 families who are outraged by his participation in a Saudi-backed golf league.

Speaking at a press conference before the U.S. Open on Monday, Mickelson was asked for his response to a strongly-worded letter from 911familiesunited.org, a group comprised of victims’ families and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The group wrote a letter last week to representatives of Mickelson, Kevin Na, and several other golfers who have joined the Saudi-backed league, alleging that the golfers were helping Saudi Arabia “whitewash” their complicity in the 9/11 attacks.

Mickelson responded by expressing sympathy for the families.

“I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them,’’ Mickelson said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.’’

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson at the U.S Open (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Terry Strada, 911familiesunited’s national chairperson whose husband was killed at the World Trade Center, specifically targeted the “depravity” Saudi Arabia showed in setting up a “support network” for the 9/11 hijackers.

Strada wrote:

As a freedom-loving American, I am grateful to have the freedom of choice where I work and who I work for, and I respect your right as well. As a 9/11 widow, I feel compelled to help you understand the level of depravity the Kingdom engaged in when it knowingly sent government agents here to establish the support network needed for those hijackers.

As you may know, Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis. It was the Saudis who cultivated and spread the evil, hate-filled Islamist ideology that inspired the violent jihadists to carry out the deadly 9/11 attacks.  And, most egregiously, it is the Kingdom that has spent 20 years in denial: lying about their activities, and cowardly dodging the responsibility they bear. Yet these are your partners, and much to our disappointment, you appear pleased to be in business with them.

Given Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of our loved ones and those injured on 9/11—your fellow Americans—we are angered that you are so willing to help the Saudis cover up this history in their request for ‘respectability.’  When you partner with the Saudis, you become complicit with their whitewash, and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave—and are willing to pay handsomely to manufacture. The Saudis do not care about the deep-rooted sportsmanship of golf or its origins as a gentleman’s game built upon core values of mutual respect and personal integrity.  They care about using professional golf to whitewash their reputation, and they are paying you to help them do it.

Mickelson has faced heavy criticism since joining the Saudi-backed league. Earlier this year, the golf legend commented that many in the media felt belittled the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Kashoggi at the hands of the Saudi government. In an effort to use the Saudi-financed league as leverage against the PGA Tour.

“They killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights,” Mickelson told his biographical author in an interview, ESPN reports. “They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

Mickelson apologized for the remarks.

The LIV Golf Invitational played its first tournament last weekend in London.

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