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Do You Remember History? The LPGA English Language Requirement

babe didrikson zaharias

You know that old saw? That one about ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it?’ [Hint: It was a chart-topper for George Santayana in 1904 or so.]

Not everyone does.

Remembering history has other benefits, too – when you recall the past, you avoid hyperbole that makes you look like a fool.

The issue at hand is the LPGA Tour’s new requirement that all athletes be proficient English-speakers. Not an unreasonable request, but the LPGA’s mandate could have been formatted, communicated and implement better.

But that’s neither here nor there – this is an education site, so we’ll focus on history.

Roy S. Johnson calls it the “Dumbest Rule Ever.”

Dear Roy,

Dumbest rule ever? Really? Dumber than mandating that all players be white? If I had some cash to waste, I’d invite you to speak to a few of the surviving Negro League players who visit the Hall of Fame here in Cooperstown – provided that you explained to them how requiring players to learn English is truly the dumbest rule ever.

As far as indignities in professional sport go, this one isn’t in the top 10. Get thee some historical perspective post haste, Roy. And if your editor, and not you, wrote the title, give him/her hell for it.

Linda Lowen, who writes the About.com Guide to Women’s Issues, calls it “Racism, Nationalism, Sexism.” The case for racism is misguided, but one has to understand that she argues it because of the high number of Korean-speaking golfers on the LPGA Tour, who represent the bulk of those affected by the ruling. Requiring those who grew up in Korea and who don’t know English fluently to become proficient with the language is different than racism.

Nationalism? Well, the LPGA just wants its athletes to communicate with the English-speaking, English-driven American market. I can understand that request. It has nothing to do with the United States and everything to do with the LPGA’s economic sustainability. That’s different than nationalism.

Sexism? Oddly enough, she doesn’t mention sex in the article – she just quotes an unhinged, illogical Bob Ford [not the one who shot Jesse James] who sees this as a slippery slope:

“Will there be a required physique for the tour? Will there be a sexual-orientation requirement to appease those lusty sponsors? Why not? You get the impression the LPGA would dress them all like Olympic beach volleyball players and have them drive the beer wagons during the pro-ams if possible….

An organization dedicated to women that perpetuates the stereotype that how a woman talks and how she looks is more important than what she accomplishes has lost its bearings.”

Relax, Chicken Little. I’ll let you fire a few neurons and figure out why this language requirement isn’t sexism. Even Ford’s characterization of golfers as cigar-smoking old boys has historical counters, like the PGA’s reception to Babe Didrikson-Zaharias – the other The Babe – all the way back in the 1940s.

The LPGA pretty much wants to make sure the athletes can do things like… conduct interviews easily. If you want to make a solid argument over this issue, argue that the LPGA was irresponsible by mandating before it had implemented a voluntary, well-supported effort to give its athletes the resources they needed to learn English. That’s a fair, reasonable argument. Freakouts about racism, nationalism and sexism are not.

Sportswriters are notoriously awful at two things: statistics and history outside the sports they cover. They’re probably hopeless with the former, but they could at least pretend to work on the latter.

4 Responses to “Do You Remember History? The LPGA English Language Requirement”

  1. Brian Barker says:

    I see that the dictatorial imperative that “everyone must speak English” now extends to golf.

    At least the Beijing Olympics appointed an Esperanto translator and CRI broadcast daily, about the Games, in this language.

    You can see detail at http://esperanto.cri.cn

  2. Brian,

    And who, exactly, is the dictator?

  3. Mi?jo says:

    “Dictatorial” can be used metaphorically, referring to the manner in which a policy is applied, which I believe to be Brian’s intent. The dictator can be quite nebulous; here, it is all those who buy into and support the idea that everyone must speak English.

    Yes, there have been worse things than a language policy. And yes, terms like “racist” are not 100% appropriate. Yet, this policy is not entirely benign. Language policy needs to be used with caution; while language is not race nor religion, it is also not a piece of clothing or a hairstyle. Languages – yes, that includes English, especially for speakers of non-Indo-European languages – are hard to learn, and not everyone is good at learning languages. Golf – which requires no knowledge of English – is the main selling point of the LPGA; interviews are secondary. Foreign players are welcome, as they raise the level of sportsmanship in the game and make it more watchable. If customers want to hear interviews and acceptance speeches in English, interpreters can fill the gap; that is what commonly happens when English-only athletes are interviewed for non-English-speaking television. Other American sports leagues have large contingents of foreigners, and many Americans play for foreign sports leagues, all without the benefit or hindrance of the slightest language policy. What all this amounts to is that this policy is unnecessarily selective, placing an unnecessarily restrictive burden on some players. There’s a word for that, and it’s “discrimination”. It may not be racial, or sexist, or ethnic, but it is a form of discrimination.

    Something that’s good for business isn’t necessarily good. Slavery, to take an extreme example, was good for slaveowners. What if the LPGA were to institute a weight requirement, claiming that viewers preferred to see svelte beauties, making them better for business? Or a race requirement, claiming that viewers preferred to see, say, white players, making them better for business? Or a religion requirement? Some practices are just wrong, no matter how good they may be for business. Nevertheless, I realize that not all forms of selectiveness are necessarily bad; the LPGA and PGA are, after all, only for women and men, respectively, yet no one is crying “sexist”. And language policy can make sense – under certain conditions. Those conditions are, as it turns out, not met in the LPGA.

    The genius of American business (other countries possess this genius, too, but we’re focusing on the U.S. here) is its can-do attitude, its “where there’s a will, there’s a way” that drives to find creative solutions. Other sports leagues have worked around the language problem, so can the LPGA.

  4. Mi?jo,

    I appreciate your comment. Apologies, but I can’t respond adequately right now. You’ve written too much that is incorrect, and responding would simply take more time than I have now.

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