NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Citigroup Inc. will continue sponsoring the professional golfer Justin Thomas, who had faced a backlash this month after he uttered a homophobic slur during a tournament in Hawaii.
The bank considered terminating the relationship, but instead decided to use his platform to increase awareness of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, chief marketing officer Carla Hassan said on Monday (Jan 25) in a blog post on the company's website.
"We have made it clear to Justin that an apology alone isn't sufficient," Hassan said in the post. "This is not about Justin as an individual, but the view that his influence and this moment of public attention create an opportunity to educate many who are not sufficiently attuned to the discrimination the LGBTQ+ community continues to face."
Thomas uttered the slur after missing a putt at the Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf and Tennis in Hawaii. Since then, the clothing company Ralph Lauren has announced that it would discontinue its sponsorship of Thomas.
"As we make the decision, our hope is that Mr Thomas does the hard and necessary work in order to partner with us again - truly examining this incident, learning, growing and ultimately using his platform to promote inclusion," Ralph Lauren said in a statement.
Thomas, 27, is one of golf's biggest stars, with 13 PGA Tour wins and 1.1 million followers on Instagram. According to his website, only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have reached that many wins at a younger age than Thomas in the past 60 years.
"I'm a grown man, there's absolutely no reason for me to say anything like that," Thomas said in an interview with the Golf Channel this month. "I need to do better. I need to be better. It's definitely a learning experience. I deeply apologise to everybody and anybody who I offended."
Thomas has agreed to donate a meaningful portion of his 2021 sponsorship fee from Citigroup to organisations that support the LGBTQ community. He will also use his platform to play an active role in supporting causes for the community, Hassan said.
She said the bank will end the relationship if it feels Thomas is not sincere in his efforts. Hassan acknowledged that the decision sparked debate inside the firm, and some colleagues felt that anything less than terminating the deal undermined the Citigroup's commitment to the LGBTQ community.
"We want to do more than make it clear that it is wrong to use this word," Hassan said. "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."
The move was supported by GLAAD, the media advocacy group for LGBTQ people. Citigroup previously worked with GLAAD when it unveiled a new feature that allows transgender customers to use their chosen names on certain credit cards. Roughly 5,000 customers have requested a name change on their cards since the programme's debut last year.
"There is now a real opportunity and a necessity to address LGBTQ inclusion with Thomas and the larger professional golfing space, and we support the decision of those brands that intend to work with him to do that," said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD's president and chief executive officer.