News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

English-only folly spreads to women’s golf

Should American business people be banned from overseas trade because they can’t speak the local language?

In 2003, veteran LPGA player Jan Stephenson said: "Asians are killing the tour." Five years later, it seems the leadership of the Ladies Professional Golfers Association agrees. In a move sure to be tested by civil liberties groups in court, the LPGA has recently ordered its players to become proficient in English within two years of joining the tour or face suspension.

According to the LPGA, its players “must demonstrate that they can communicate in English in the following areas of our business: interaction with amateurs during tournament pro-ams, media interviews, and winner acceptance speeches, including thanking sponsors, fans, and volunteers."

"The bottom line is, we don't have a job if we don't entertain," said Hilary Lunke, the president of the LPGA's player executive committee. "In my mind, that's as big a part of the job as shooting under par."

Well, then … if entertainment is more important than excellence on the LPGA tour, why stop at English proficiency? Since most of the sponsor companies are run by men, maybe the LPGA could follow the example of NFL cheerleaders and have a panel select only the most attractive candidates. Or perhaps the LPGA bylaws should ban any player with a speech impediment.

Only in women's sports
Sadly, this could only happen in women’s sports. Male sports figures in the U.S. are revered for their athletic prowess, regardless of English proficiency. Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming, for example, barely speaks English. Yet the seven-footer starred in a TV commercial that playfully poked fun at his limited language skills. But when it comes to women, the bar is higher. Female athletes must be charming All-American girls to be successful. Being sexy doesn’t hurt, either.

The only LPGA player with her own TV show is swimsuit calendar queen Natalie Gulbis (who has only one tournament victory in her career but looks great in a bikini.) And here’s an interesting sidebar: Jan Stephenson, the author of the “Asians are killing the tour” comment, was known more for posing scantily-clad in photos than for posting winning golf scores during her salad days on the pro circuit.

The nativists give it a thumbs up
Not surprisingly, many nativists agree with the LPGA’s English-only edict. “This should have been done a long time ago,” wrote one online blogger. “The entire country should follow suit and demand that all foreigners speak English while making money in this country.” A number of similar comments have appeared on the web following the new LPGA rule. I wonder if these same people would support a ban of U.S. athletes plying their trade overseas? Or take it one step further: Should American business people be banned from overseas trade because they can’t speak the local language?

Truth is, there are thirty-five Koreans and many more international players on the LPGA tour – and they are dominating the competition. The LPGA is afraid of losing TV viewers and sponsors if the American women on tour become a rarity in the winner’s circle - or, heaven forbid, become a minority on the tour. That’s the reality behind this English-only move.

Many right-wing pundits decry the use of quotas for achieving ethnic diversity in employment and education. They argue that the U.S. should be a meritocracy. How ironic that a professional sport league has chosen to use English proficiency as a way to ensure American supremacy. Add the LPGA’s new edict to the growing list of reasons why English-only rules make little sense.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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