'The Burk Stops Here' is out of cash

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2003

Todd Manzi says he is broke, which hardly distinguishes him from lots of other people out of work in these trying times.

What is different about the 41-year-old, former advertising executive and real estate salesman is how he went broke.

Manzi was listening to the radio last fall while driving from Orlando, Fla., to his home in Tampa. He had just left a job. He swears he wasn't looking for a crusade. He doesn't even play golf.

But on came Martha Burk, who runs the National Council of Women's Organizations, talking about how she planned to force Hootie Johnson, who oversees Augusta National and the Masters tournament, to admit women as members. Something inside Manzi snapped.

''I was just so ticked off by her, by her presumption that she was speaking for all women,'' he said Thursday, ''and I figured a lot of people felt that way. So I'm driving and thinking, 'What if I came up with a slogan and put it on some T-shirts?' ''

He does not deny trying to make a buck in the bargain. And though he's not the only opportunist in a field that already includes Burk and Jesse Jackson, he is the only one losing his shirt.

''Yeah, I needed something to do and sure, I thought it could be huge. But I also knew it could flop. You learn that in marketing. That's the way it is with any opportunity. Still, I need passion to drive me,'' Manzi said, ''and I was passionate about this.''

That's the problem with passion, of course. One thing quickly leads to another.

Manzi had to back off the original slogan (unfit to reprint here) and come up with a new one. After that, he ordered dozens of golf balls with a likeness of Burk on the side and began offering them for sale along with the T-shirts and hats on his web site, www.theburkstopshere.

One indication of how he's fared is apparent from the link in the top right corner of the home page. It reads: ''Todd Manzi is looking for a real job. Click here if you would like to hire Todd.''

And he's not the only person surprised it turned out this way. Colleen Severson, the business manager for a Minneapolis builder's association where Manzi was a successful marketer, said, ''When Todd puts his mind to something, it usually works out.''

Maybe Manzi wasn't cut out to be an activist. Besides missing a paycheck since October, he's plowed his savings -- about $25,000 -- into the enterprise. His family is living off credit cards and money isn't his only headache, either.

Manzi was a stay-at-home dad for almost a year and he worries he's neglecting his two young kids. He's had a half-dozen tearful, heart-to-hearts with his wife, Barb, and his neighbors are tired of debating the issue. They won't have to worry about it much longer, though.

Manzi figures he's in the stretch run now and that if he sells the house and finds work soon after the Masters ends, he could be out of debt by June, ''maybe.''

And now for the strangest part: Manzi doesn't spend much time worrying about whether Augusta has none, one or 100 female members. What keeps him awake nights is that Burk's pressure tactics will succeed. To combat that, he ripped a page from Burk's book, trying to do to her what she has done to Augusta National.

''All 300 or so members there know Hootie is speaking for them, and they can agree or disagree as they see fit. Martha Burk has 10 women on a steering committee,'' he said, ''and if I'd been able to establish that her support goes much beyond that group, you wouldn't be talking to me right now.''

Burk did not return a phone call Thursday.

But nearly every poll conducted on the controversy shows women equally divided over whether Augusta National should admit females. With that number in mind, Manzi attempted to contact the dozen organizations that comprise roughly 80 percent of the 7 million women the NCWO says it represents, and asked them whether they support Burk's campaign. He claims to have convinced at least one group to quit NCWO, though the organization says it didn't renew its membership because of an oversight.

''As a society, we have to decide if one person with an impressive letterhead can do whatever they please,'' he said. ''Plus, she's talking about all these benefits being denied to women because no one belongs there, but so far, the only economic impact it's had is on Augusta, and it's all been bad.

''Corporations are skipping the Masters, which means the catering firms and furniture stores and who-knows-what-other-businesses there -- some of them run by women -- are losing money.''

In the meantime, Burk tours the country using the media to tighten the screws on Augusta National. Manzi visited Augusta several weeks ago to scout sites and file a permit for a counter-demonstration. Otherwise, he sits at home, putting in 70-hour workweeks with encouraging e-mails as his only compensation.

''I saw her on TV the other day and I got so mad all over again, I almost threw a brick through it. And if I'd had a steady paycheck coming in,'' Manzi said, ''I might have.''

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.



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