Senator Leland Yee, The LPGA, English Only, And Rounding Up Those Koreans

Monday, September 01, 2008

I've been following the news out on the LPGA and their decision to make all of their players speak English (check out the post from AAM last week) - and while you can openly make the case for why it's being instituted (xenophobia, Asian domination, the old American Girl's Club, the need for some new PR and marketing folks, all of the above) - the bottom line is that in American sports you have international players and "the language barrier" has never been a problem before.

Just look to the NBA and basketball which isn't just a team sport where players need to communicate with each other, but one where the organization is extremely press and sponsor savvy. I mean hasn't the LPGA ever heard of translators?

Even billiards provides a translator in televised events.

And while I get the fact that the LPGA is "saying" this is for marketing/sponsorship purposes more so than anything else, I'm curious to know then - really curious - what sponsors, or sponsor liaisons, have told the LPGA that they won't sponsor an LPGA event, or have anything to do with the LPGA, if the LPGA's players can't make victory speeches, or talk about what they're going to do on their holiday vacation at a party?

If this is supposedly driven by American marketing reasons, it's a fair question to ask (and one that I haven't seen any information on yet).

At the same time while people have said "It's an American tour" isn't the LPGA making stops in Korea, Thailand, Singapore, China and Japan next year? Don't international television rights make up a large source of the LPGA's income - including in Asian countries (see here and here)?

The LPGA has expanded its reach to be more than "An American Tour" and that in itself begs the question of why it's really installing this policy (see the first paragraph of this post and just remember that according to multiple sources, ONLY the Korean players were rounded up for this news).

I'm glad to see though that the majority of news I'm reading on this isn't supportive of the new LPGA policy - calling it out for what it is - and that someone like Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) is stepping in and calling for an end to the discriminatory rule.

Not only is he saying he'll stand alongside protesters if the policy isn't rescinded by the time the Samsung World Championship reaches the Half Moon Bay Golf Links in his district, but he's also helping to make sure that this simple question gets asked - which could very well bring this policy down:

What will the LPGA do if it has a golfer who only speaks in sign language?

Here's some links on what's being said around the world

Yee Calls on LPGA to End Discriminatory Policy

Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) is leading an effort to oppose a recently announced policy by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) to require its athletes to speak English starting in 2009. Senator Yee and his Democratic colleagues in the Senate today sent a letter to LPGA Chief Executive Carolyn Bivens blasting the policy.

“Mandating English on the LPGA Tour will disenfranchise qualified players from the global community of professional golf,” said Yee. “English fluency has no bearing on an athlete’s ability to compete. Denying access based on language capability or country of origin is unfair, unreasonable, and discriminatory.
Testing times for Koreans as LPGA Tour talks tough

A fear of outsiders is nothing new in the insular world of American golf.

Five years ago, the erstwhile glamour puss of the LPGA, Jan Stephenson, said: 'This is probably going to get me into trouble [she was right; it did], but the Asians are killing our Tour. Their lack of emotion, their refusal to speak English...' Etcetera. Her rant was widely excoriated. From being behind the eight ball, she suddenly seems ahead of her time.

No one at the LPGA admits this issue is about South Korean golfers. No one denies it, either. Koreans account for 45 of the LPGA Tour's 120 players and it is only they - albeit only a few of them - who have significant problems with English. But under the new regulations, an acceptable (to be defined) level of English will be required for media interviews, victory speeches and to enable interaction with amateur pro-am partners.
LPGA open to race charge as Koreans are told to mind their language

Now, quite apart from the obviously tricky legal aspects of such a distasteful and questionable move – and the equally self-evident irony in having those who, like, routinely mangle the, like, English-language on a, like, daily basis, claiming the upper hand in any linguistic argument – such nonsense represents nothing short of blatant and specific racism. Note that, despite today's LPGA tour being more diverse than it has ever been, only the Koreans were summoned to answer for their perceived verbal shortcomings.

Just why one nation should be singled out is not difficult to discern. For the US-based LPGA, the by-now routine domination of the tour by foreign-born players – a group largely made up of Koreans – is something of a commercial problem. Twenty-four LPGA events have been played so far this year and in 18 of those a non-US national has finished first. Seven of those 18 victories – including the two most recent major championships – have been recorded by Korean women.
LPGA puts its foot in its English-speaking mouth

Maybe it's because Lorie Kane is a Canadian who had trouble learning French when she attended university, or maybe she's simply more compassionate than many of her fellow LPGA English-speaking players.

Whatever the reason, Kane continues to believe that the LPGA's new policy by which it will force international players to speak English to a standard yet to be decided upon is needlessly draconian.