Cristina Perez - Five Minute Recess

English-Only Golf— FORE! ... Shanked!

August 29, 2008 12:06 PM

When my parents arrived to the U.S. in the early 1960s, they spoke little to no English. Yet they each made a concerted effort to learn the language of their new country. And that is just what they did. Spanish was my first language. In fact, I was born in New York but raised in Mexico for several years while my father attended medical school. When we returned to the U.S., the first thing my parents did was enroll my brother, sister and me in school. I did not speak English at the time and I was forced to learn, so I learned.

Female Golfer

This week the Ladies Professional Golf Tour (LPGA) announced that it would implement an English-only policy that will require players to pass an oral English exam to determine their proficiency in the language. If they don’t pass, they will face suspension from the Tour. Rumors are already flying about how this rule was aimed at Korean players.

On the one hand, it makes sense that the Tour wants players to speak English. It would be easier for players to deal with the media. And, from a monetary standpoint, it would make the high-paying sponsors and pro-am players delighted when they can actually speak with and understand the Tour players they play with.

On the other hand, it appears that the approach was not well thought out. Is this a smart move—not only for the LPGA but for what it might say about American sports in general? If we create policies like this as a barrier for every foreign athlete in every sport, aren’t we being hypocritical?

Major League Baseball, the PGA, NFL, NHL and NBA do not require their players to speak English.

Consider these issues as well:

Without addressing the ever-debatable illegal immigration issues that are self-evident, if you want to become a citizen in the U.S. you are required to pass an oral English-only exam. Many of these players who play on the Tour maintain immigration visas, which allows them to stay in the U.S. for a limited purpose—to play golf—and many have no intent to become U.S. citizens.

There are many non-English speakers currently playing on the LPGA. For example, Se Ri Pak, considered one of the most famous and successful golfers (Korean or otherwise) on the LPGA, did not know an ounce of English when she joined the Tour in 1998. For years, she used a translator. Yet she eventually learned English. Do you think this was a natural course of events or do you think she felt pressure to “fit in” among the other (English-speaking) players?

Last year’s PGA U.S. Open winner, Angel Cabrera, speaks almost no English and he was able to communicate through a translator. He was quoted as saying, “I don't speak much English because—I understand, but I'm not fluent enough, so I feel that I cannot be myself.”

Some LPGA players have come out and revealed that the Tour is now known as the "Korean LPGA" and that the language barrier has created a divide among players. Sadly, this is a divide that has nothing to do with the game. Golf teaches you unity, how to respect others, patience and tolerance. Those are the tenets of golf and to completely throw that away would be a shame.

What is the Tour doing to help these players? Aren’t translators available for LPGA players to use? English classes? Books? Programs?

I believe that anyone who comes to the U.S. to work should learn English. But issuing a harsh penalty for anyone who doesn’t learn is difficult to swallow.

FORE! ... It looks like the LPGA shanked their approach shot on this issue.

What do you think?

See you in court!


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