If anyone thinks professional sports are anything more than televised entertainment, check out the LPGA's new rule that requires its players to speak English.
According to Golfweek Magazine, the tour has announced that "all players who have been on tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills." The policy takes effect immediately but the measurement period starts at the end of 2009; those who fail will be suspended from the Tour.
The world of sport is supposed to be a true meritocracy. You should be measured by your skill, not your personality or parents or linguistic prowess. If Seve Ballesteros was subject to a rule like this one, he never would have won the 1980 Masters. The LPGA wants to hold its members to a different standard, one that makes proficiency in English and the ability to entertain pro-am sponsors as important as proficiency with a 7-iron.
Hilary Lunke, president of the Player Executive Committee, said as much in the Golfweek story. "The bottom line is, we don't have a job if we don't entertain. In my mind, that's as big a part of the job as shooting under par."
The LPGA made the announcement last week in a mandatory meeting of South Korean players at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore. (Seven of the LPGA's Top 20 players are Korean and half are from East Asia; 45 of the LPGA's 121 international players are from South Korea.) According to the article, many Korean players approve of the policy (at least publicly), but that doesn't make it any less sinister.
Angela Park, interviewed in the story, appears to be under the impression that the LPGA officials could impose quotas on Korean golfers if they wanted to. "The LPGA could come out and say they only want 10 Koreans, but they're not," Park said to Golfweek. "A lot of Korean players think they are being targeted, but it's just because there are so many of them."
Even those in favor of the concept should be troubled by the fact that the LPGA won't have a standard testing procedure. Players would be targeted for evaluation based on staff observations, according to Golfweek, and those "who already demonstrate English proficiency will not be approached."
I had to read this paragraph three times to make sure it wasn't a satire from The Onion, or a secret police manual from the Eastern Bloc. Not only are they requiring a language evaluation for their golfers, but they're also making that evaluation subjective and arbitrary!
Professional athletes generally learn English because it is in their financial interest to do so, but those who don't should not be penalized. In addition to Ballesteros at the Masters, an English-only policy would have denied golf fans the great 1980 U.S. Open battle between Jack Nicklaus and Japan's Isao Aoki. Today's fans would not get to see Argentina's Andres Romero, one of the game's brightest young stars. The list could go on and on.
If entertainment is the LPGA's main concern, here are a few more suggestions for new tour policies:
• Make all the players pass an English proficiency test. That way the entire Tour will fit into two foursomes.
• Make it mandatory that all players learn to juggle, play guitar and do magic tricks. Now that'll be entertaining!
• Force the American players to quit losing so much.
• Make all pro-am participants learn Korean.
Oh, and one more thing to chew on, LPGA: This is America. We embrace diversity, we don't punish it. But on the plus side, you've finally gotten your tour into the news. Too bad it's for being reprehensible and unsportsmanlike.