Golfer Haphazardly Defends Saudi Human Rights Record: 'Nobody's Perfect'

Professional golfer Bryson DeChambeau stumbled into a vague defense of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record while talking about the PGA Tour’s new deal with LIV Golf on Tuesday, telling CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that “nobody’s perfect.”

News of the partnership between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf made waves across the sports world and beyond following intense criticism of the Saudi-funded league and the kingdom’s record of human rights abuses.

LIV Golf is funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmancontrols. The crown prince ordered the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the CIA concluded that year.

Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights abuses, described Saudi Arabia’s foray into golf as “sportswashing,” or using athletics and cultural influence as a way to rehabilitate the kingdom’s reputation.

DeChambeau, who signed a $100 million contract with LIV Golf last June, didn’t appear to have been briefed on any of the wider controversies about the league when he appeared on CNN on Tuesday.

When Collins pointed out to DeChambeau that the families of 9/11 victims were criticizing the merger, the golfer replied, “I think, as time has gone on, 20 years has passed and we’re in a place now where it’s time to start trying to make things better together, as a whole.”

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has staunchly denied any involvement in 9/11.

Though DeChambeau expressed “deep sympathy” for the 9/11 families — who said they were “shocked and deeply offended” by the merger in a press release on Tuesday — he asked them to find a “pathway to peace and forgiveness.”

“Especially if we’re trying to mend the world and make it a better place,” the golfer said.

When Collins pressed DeChambeau about the extent of Saudi Arabia’s abuses, citing Khashoggi’s murder and the kingdom’s links to terrorist groups, the golfer said he “wasn’t going to get into the politics of it.”

“What I can say is they’re trying to do good for the world and showcase themselves in a light that hasn’t been seen in a while,” he continued. “And nobody’s perfect, but we’re all trying to improve in life.”

Collins responded, “Yeah. I think they would say it’s not just about politics, it’s also about human rights, and that is where the critics have weighed in so heavily on this.”

Bryson DeChambeau plays during the final round of the 2023 PGA Championship on May 21, 2023, in Rochester, New York.
Bryson DeChambeau plays during the final round of the 2023 PGA Championship on May 21, 2023, in Rochester, New York.

Bryson DeChambeau plays during the final round of the 2023 PGA Championship on May 21, 2023, in Rochester, New York.

Like DeChambeau, officials from LIV Golf have taken a dismissive stance toward criticism of the league. In January, LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman told reporters, “I believe everyone learns from their mistakes.”

Several prominent golfers have spoken out against the athletes who joined LIV Golf. Tiger Woods reportedly turned down a $700 million offer to join the league last June.

“I think that what they’ve done is they’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position,” Woods said of golfers who left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf.

Golfer Phil Mickelson had more colorful language in February 2022, prior to signing with LIV Golf later that year. He called the Saudis “scary motherfuckers to get involved with.”

“We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it?” Mickelson asked. “Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”