Eugene Cho

LPGA will suspend memberships if golfers don’t learn english

Update:  Great news.  Facing heavy criticism, the LPGA has reversed their decision to suspend players an English speaking requirement.

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“We no speak good Engrish.”

Wow.  So many thoughts but I guess I knew this was coming.  It was inevitable because there are so many Korean “international” women [45] now on the LPGA tour and truth be told, they’re simply kicking arse.  On any given tournament, it’s not surprising to see half of the leaderboard peppered with the names of Korean golfers.  And while I know that there are 121 foreign players on the LPGA, this somewhat seems indirectly directed to the Korean golfers as attested by the recent “mandatory meeting” for the South Korean golfers.

The LPGA is a private association so it is true that they can make up these rules but suspending memberships isn’t the answer.  Whether it’s been communicated differently to the “international” golfers privately may be different but from a PR perspective, it doesn’t smell right because it sounds like a threat. The LPGA is an association that boasts itself as the premier women’s golf tour in the world…so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re going to attract international players.  And as long as they meet the “golfing standards,” it doesn’t seem right that they have to also PASS a language exam, right?

And having lived in Korea for couple years and working not only as a pastor but also as a lecturer at a university in Korea, I can tell you that Koreans are obsessed with English – in an unhealthy way.  It saddens me to know how much parents will sacrifice – financially and communally – in order to get the children the “head start” to learn English.  This is why you’ve got so many English speaking folks going to Korea to teach English.  There aren’t that many places in the world that your average person – simply by being able to speak English – can make $40-$60/hour.  Just by knowing English.

These golfers know a level of English but imposing a threat of suspension really isn’t the best way of creating a “world class” association.  I fully agree that they ought to learn English and assist in helping “market” the LPGA but I strongly disagree with the membership suspensions.  When you make it mandatory, it stinks of the whole “colonialism” junk so many have complained about western powers: “Fit in or else.”

Let me put it another way. What if the article stated a new rule where a WEIGHT LIMIT was put into motion for the female golfers because the LPGA complained that heavier golfers can’t be marketed for the LPGA and were hurting income.  Wouldn’t we all raise a stink?  Reminds me when the NBA came down on some of the NBA players because they didn’t dress a certain way.  It was a general policy but also seemed to be indirectly directed to the black players.

So, we want you to be a part of the NBA; we’ll use you to market the NBA; we’ll use you to elevate the game and competition; we’ll use you to sell tickets…but we don’t want you to look too “ghetto” black.  

Wear a suit. Take off the chains.  Easy on the tatoos.  blah blah blah.

That was the dangerous implication I was sensing.

Two more [big] reasons why this bothers me is because I feel like the Asian culture is being misunderstood and worse, possibly manipulated. In the past, the LPGA and some of the “other” golfers complained about the “lack of personality” of the Korean golers and wanted them to be more engaging? But what if the Korean culture has a different perspective on “engagement”?

Personal example:  Growing up in Korea, I was taught that avoiding direct eye contact with adults and elders were a sign of great respect. When I came to the states, teacher after teacher kept hammering me – verbally and occasionally, through grades – at my deficient social skills.  Even now, I have to intentionally make eye contact because it’s not my natural inclination.  I have to because most Westerners will do some sort of weird psychoanalysis about my depravity and weakness as a leader because of my “visual” dis-acuity. 

Secondly, most of the Korean LPGA players will not make a big deal out of this because this is what the dominant Korean/Confucian culture dictates: Be calm and quiet. Be passive. Don’t bring attention to yourself.  Don’t shame your country.  But my hunch: if there were 45 international French or Italian players on the LPGA tour that didn’t speak English, I don’t believe this becomes a mandatory policy. 

The Korean golfers bring so much depth and excellence to the LPGA tour. It’s not a one sided benefit. While it is true that individuals can choose to join or not, I can tell you with absolute certainty that if all 45 Korean golfers left the LPGA, it would not be what it is because they simply wouldn’t have the best golfers in the world. 

LPGA: I’m sorry that these “international players” aren’t like Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Morgan Pressel or Erica Blasberg [who hasn't won a single event and only has a single Top 10 finish but happens to be the face for Puma's global golf marketing campaign.  Hmm, I wonder why?].  This move is a double bogey move for the LPGA in my opinion.  So as of today, I’ve decided to remove my two daughters from the LPGA track and get them ready for the PGA.  Michelle Wie can’t seem to hack it so my daughters will need to break that barrier.

Enough of my nonsense.  What do you think?  Here’s the article from ESPN.

The LPGA will require its member golfers to learn and speak English and will suspend their membership if they don’t comply.

The new requirement, first reported by Golfweek on its Web site, was communicated to the tour’s growing South Korean membership in a mandatory meeting at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 20. Connie Wilson, the LPGA’s vice president of communications, confirmed the new policy to ESPN.com.

Players were told by LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens that by the end of 2009, all players who have been on the tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills or face a membership suspension. A written explanation of the policy was not given to players, according to the report.

“Hopefully what we’re talking about is something that will not happen,” Libba Galloway, the tour’s deputy commissioner, said of the potential for suspensions, according to Golfweek. “If it does, we wouldn’t just say, ‘Come back next year.’ What we would do is work with them on where they fell short, provide them the resources they need, the tutoring … and when we feel like they need to be evaluated again, we would evaluate.”

Every Korean player who spoke with Golfweek about the meeting came away with the understanding she would lose her tour card if she failed the test rather than face suspension, according to the report. But Korean players who spoke about the policy supported the tour’s position, though some, including Se Ri Pak, felt fines would be better than suspensions.

“We agree we should speak some English,” Pak said, according to the report. “We play so good overall. When you win, you should give your speech in English.”

Betsy Clark, the LPGA’s vice president of professional development, said a team of evaluators will assess players on communication skills including conversation, everyday survival phrases and “golfspeak.” Players must be able to conduct interviews and give acceptance speeches without the help of a translator, she said, according to the report.

Galloway said the policy takes effect immediately, but that players’ English proficiency would not be measured until the end of 2009, according to the report. The LPGA’s membership includes 121 international players from 26 countries; 45 are South Koreans.

“This should be a priority in their professional development just the way working on their short game is a priority,” Galloway said, according to Golfweek. “We just wanted to be clear about our expectations.”

Angela Park, a Korean-American who was born in Brazil and speaks three languages, said it’s difficult to “come to a foreign country and be yourself.” She also supports the rule and says it’s fair, according to the report.

“The LPGA could come out and say they only want 10 Koreans, but they’re not,” Park said, according to Golfweek. “A lot of Korean players think they are being targeted, but it’s just because there are so many of them.”

And Seon-Hwa Lee, who said she is working with an English tutor during the offseason and plans to brush up for the evaluation, thinks everyone “can do a simple interview,” according to the report. Her ability to answer questions without a translator has improved during her time on the tour.

“The economy is bad, and we are losing sponsors,” she said, according to the report. “Everybody understands.”

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29 Responses

  1. LV says:

    this is racism in 2008. we want to be wowed by athletes for the things that few of us can do,but we want them to act and speak just like us. i was wondering how long it would take for the golf world to show historically bigotted face now that the best players are mostly foreign born and non-english speaking. these are intelligent women and they can and will learn english to appease thier racist employers/sponsors. if the lpga had their way, these women would have to lose their accents, round thei eyes, and lighten their skin and hair. i like the game of golf, but i hate the culture of golf. the most disturbing part is the rationale for such a clearly ethnocentric move. the lpga worries that the non-english speaking members cannot “entertain” amateurs during pro-am events. translation: the foreign golfers cannot effectively kiss the ##### of the various rich am golfers who pump money into these events. to a degree, i get that. but this has nothing to do with the skill these ladies display on the golf course, which is what real sports are about. as long as somone can translate korean or whatever other language a golfer might speak, what is the big deal?

  2. No Big Deal says:

    LPGA is a private business, and they are making their new “employees” learn English within 2 years of their active employment date. This is no different then any other businesses making you go through continuing educations for insurance, law, engineering (my field) etc etc. If you want to work at a certain profession, you need to follow their guidelines and continue to do what is asked of you by that employer or you always have the right to find a new job/profession. Sorry, but its very easy to comprehend, do what is asked of your employer or you will be terminated.

  3. Matt says:

    Racial profiling.
    no way around it.

    Would more people watch just because the golfers can give interviews without a translator or in fluent english?

    And what’s with all these korean women just being ok with it? Like you said, the culture’s already obsessed with knowing English, so it’s not something that threatening to them,

    When they start testing, they should force EVERYONE to have to sit through that garbage testing, yeah… even the American born players. Make them eat that crap too.

  4. Brian says:

    I just happened upon this news on ESPN’s site and I simply cringed. It’s obviously very complex with it being a private organization, but in other ways it is very easy to see this is blatent ignorance of White privilege for the purpose of more $$$$ in the pockets of LPGA brass. Learning English may not be a bad thing, but the strict arrogance that comes with it seems to really miss the point. It’s (subtly) saying that the Korean language is considered second-class on the LPGA tour, which is a slam because that language is part of who Se Ri Pak (for example) happens to be, she is from Korea…has anyone (on the tour’s brass) thought about the global aspect of women’s golf? And if so, how many young Korean girls (watching Korean women on the LPGA Tour) will not get to hear their native tongue spoken in post-match interviews? It seems slight, but that (to me) is a tragedy, because it minimizes the beauty of a culture’s language.

    Eugene, I am so thankful for your willingness to take risks and speak up about this stuff, it is a true act of grace. I hope that I can also speak up about this stuff, because it is not solely your (and other minorities) responsibility to do so. We have to fight racism from all angles, including my White maleness….thanks, man.

  5. Tyler says:

    I have zero problem with this. The LPGA can’t market most of these international players because of their poor English. This isn’t a government run company, and it is a golfer’s choice to join the tour.

  6. ubuntucat says:

    I kind of agree with both sides here.

    On the one hand, this policy change probably stemmed from some subconscious (or conscious, but I like to give the benefit of the doubt) racism.

    On the other hand, it’s not an entirely unreasonable request to make. Yes, the sport is mainly about the sport, but it is also about giving interviews, too.

  7. j says:

    Tyler…..you have no problem with this because you are anglo-american. this is like saying afro-american’s can not compete at a pro-level in basketball, baseball, golf because of their skin color. in fact, head of these sports organizers thought that sports were not marketable if afro-americans joined because of the color of their skin. history has proven that this was not the case (thanks to many afro-american sports figures). now, in 2008, same racial profiling is happening again and once again, there are ignorant anglo’s such as Tyler stating his indifference while No Big Deal who has never read a single sentence of what truely is a racism.

  8. j says:

    i am sure these korean players will pass the written test with flying color….in fact, these written/speaking test should be given to all players regardless of who & where they are from. would love to see the compliation of all score from all players………i am sure these korean players will kick birdies out of their counterparts from US.

  9. matt says:

    Another thought…
    LPGA = ladies professional golf association.
    no american or english in there.

    and while they play the majority of their tourney’s in US, they also play in:
    South Africa
    Singapore
    Mexico
    France
    England
    Canada
    China
    Korea
    Japan

    If it’s really about marketing women’s golf, should all golfers be required to learn Swahili, Malay, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Japanaese languages? for consistency sake after all…..

  10. [...] Cho says more it here, and the official ESPN article is [...]

  11. eugenecho says:

    ubuntu: they give interviews. the point is, they wanted them to do the interviews in ENGLISH. they have translators.

    tyler: i don’t have a problem with the request for folks to learn and use english. but when you make it mandatory, it stinks of the whole “colonialism” junk so many have complained about western powers.

    and honestly, i think we’re fooling ourselves if we think they’re inclined to using the korean golfers to market the LPGA. they’re peripheral figures.

    let me put it another way, what if the article stated a new rule where a WEIGHT LIMIT was put into motion. because the LPGA complains that heavier golfers can’t be marketed for the LPGA. would we all raise a stink?

    how about when the NBA came down on some of the NBA players because they didn’t dress a certain way.

    so, we want you to be a part of the NBA; we’ll use you to market the NBA; we’ll use you to elevate the game; we’ll use you to sell tickets…but we don’t want you to look too black. that was the impression i got.

  12. eugenecho says:

    two more things i’ll add at this point.

    another [big] reason why this bothers me is because i feel like the asian culture is being manipulated. in the past, they’ve wanted asians to be more “engaging” and such but what if the korean culture has a different perspective on “engagement”?

    secondly, most of the korean LPGA players will not make a big deal out of this because this is what the dominant culture will mostly dictate. fit in. be passive. don’t bring attention to yourself.

    but trust me, if there were 45 international french or italian players on the LPGA tour, this does not become a mandatory policy.

    the korean golfers bring so much depth and excellence to the LPGA tour. it’s not a one sided benefit. while it is true that individuals can choose to join or not, i can tell you with absolute certainty that if all 45 korean golfers left the LPGA, the LPGA would not be what it is because they simply wouldn’t have the best golfers in the world.

  13. Eddie says:

    Eugene, what’s the fuss about again. This isn’t “real racism.” :)

  14. Brad says:

    When I first read about this I assumed it had something to do with the rules, like maybe they were worried about coaches using other languages during tournaments to give advice which isn’t allowed during play. Now that I see the reason is really marketing, then it is a very poor decision. Sure they have the right to do it but they can not really then claim to be the best women’s tour in the world because their qualifications are more than just good golf. It also seems to be short sighted, the LPGA is probably one of the most diverse sports leagues and now they want them all to be the same.

  15. gar says:

    >When they start testing, they should force EVERYONE to have to sit through that garbage testing, yeah… even the American born players. Make them eat that crap too.

    That would be fair – to give every single lady on the LPGA the English examination/test. Too bad I doubt it’ll happen since it’s pretty obvious to everyone reading this news story that it’s exclusively targeted at Koreans and players from non-Western countries.

    Considering that 45 out of 121 players are Korean, and that there’s obviously a significant interest in golf in South Korea (which is definitely a mostly “first world” country with a large market economy), the LPGA tour should be making the other players learn Korean if they really interested in marketing the brand of “LPGA” to make money – but we all know that the “marketing” line is a smokescreen. Just like people who support draconian “English Only” laws make up concerns about things like public safety and offending people who can only understand English, LPGA’s line about “marketing” is a veil for their anti-Korean attitudes.

  16. Judy says:

    Hmmm. Wonder how MLB would react to this rule?

  17. Dan Hauge says:

    I’m assuming Eddie’s post was sarcastic . . .

    Eugene, thanks for continuing to bring these issues to the fore and discuss them. It seems to be ticking off some people, but we need further education on how cultural oppression operates, and these examples are helpful.

    Yes, technically a private organization can make its own rules. But cultural oppression is real. Those of us whose first language is English, and who instinctively relate according to the dominant culture, are simply taking for granted that our ways are ‘normal’ and other people need to perform on our terms because we own the sandbox.

    The question is not whether this is legal, according to the dictates of a free market. The issue is whether it is right and just for one culture to use the power we have accumulated (I say ‘we’ as a member of the dominant white culture) to exclude people from opportunity if they don’t change and become like our culture.

  18. Channing Park says:

    I never thought I would see the day where Koreans are being targeted due to the dominance of a sport. Did you?

    It’s unfortunate the US is becoming the very thing it detests: xenophobic. I’m sure within the next couple of days or week the LPGA will come to its collective senses and reverse the policy.

  19. Yonas says:

    I found this blog through Tyler’s.

    Anyhow, now that I’ve properly introduced myself. Here’s my .000000 Malaysian cent. Please pardon my post in advance, engrish is my 2nd language, and I am still learning how to master the art of sarcasm.

    I don’t like subtle racism. I’ve said this before. It’s like a dead rat in your house. You can’t see it but you can smell the rotten stench. I’d rather have blantant racism we used to have in the 60s….a little more obvious and in your face, but it is easier to identify.

    Racism- will NEVER EVER end. It will always be there, but in a more sophisticated form.

    Just my humble opinion.

  20. Yonas says:

    I might add more in the future- but I wanted to just quickly point out that my post above was not necessarily about the LPGA…and to your point of Korean culture being passive, I’d say that is more of Asian culture, we’re being raised to always pretty much bend over backwards and sacrifice our own feelings in order to conform to the society.

    I want to also add that I don’t use the ‘race/culture’ card in a lot of my arguments.

    Eugene, maybe you can spend more time on this topics that I’m about to bring up:

    Racism and church

    1. One thing that bugs me is that I used to go to a campus ministry place in my university. There were many Americans (read: caucasian American)-fresh out of seminary school students, who had this burning desire to ‘minister’ to international students, particularly the ones with limited English. I was approached a couple times by these youngins and they started talking about God, etc..etc..and they normally stopped when I said “I’m a Christian” and they moved on. Something about that bugs me that they identify my appearance with being ‘non-christian’ (therefore need to be converted). My favorite quote “We have to befriend these people, so we can minister to them”. Ugh. Interestingly- this is mainly with AMERICAN students though, not with Europeans.

    I will add more….

  21. Tyler says:

    J-

    Sorry if I came off as anti-a single race. I realize that a large majority of international players on the LPGA are Korean but I don’t think this mandate will only affect them. So my answer wasn’t directed toward one group.

    I agree with you Eugene, to a point, it is somewhat like colonialism and I do not think this is the perfect solution, but I don’t think it is a horrible solution either. I think if I’m a Korean golfer or any golfer who doesn’t know English…I want to learn it. What the LPGA should do is provide the tutors for free.

  22. Brian Barker says:

    So 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.

    This can be seen at http://esperanto.cri.cn

  23. JW says:

    Tyler, what makes this solution horrible and unnecessary is that the market already penalizes korean golfers for not speaking perfect english. Imagine if they were kicking as much ass as they are now and they spoke good english and related to western culture better and see how much more money would flow into their accounts. So the strong motivation is there already, but stupid LPGA decided to take a step further and try out what is manifestly a questionable and possibly racist “solution”.

    Also, can you imagine if this kinda crap was forced on the men? It wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. So you can also say it is a byproduct of of the pitiable standing of women in sports.

  24. matt says:

    overturned!!! they’re going to make a new policy. haven’t decied what yet.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/golf/news/story?id=3570957&campaign=rss&source=ESPNHeadlines

  25. eugenecho says:

    i read that this morning.

    wow, our blog did it! we have weight and influence on the world.

  26. [...] this is a testimony to Eugene Cho’s blogging power (and, if so, how can I get him to blog about people sending me gifts of gold doubloons?).  In any [...]

  27. Have just been at the European Social Forum in Sweden, a kind of activist mega-confrence. Found myself getting very embarrassed because every time the translation system failed (which happened a lot) speakers from Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, even further afield, all rolled-over into English. It brought home just how much England and America between them have done to make the world revolve around us. I felt terrible, despite various reassurances from Swedes and Germans that English was just as important as a way to communicate between themselves.

  28. [...] folks that speak a language other than English. This is very similar to the whole fiasco with the Asian female golfers being threatened by the LPGA – except it’s a whole different [...]

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