Sports Law Blog
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Thursday, August 28, 2008
LPGA English Only Requirement
The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) has been at the center of a media firestorm for the past several days. On August 20th, it announced that it was adopting a policy that requires its member golfers to speak English proficiently or face suspension. For players that have been on tour for two years, they must pass an oral evaulation of their English proficiency by the end of the 2009 season or face suspension.
LPGA commissioner Carolyn BivensIn defense of this policy LPGA Deputy Commissioner Libba Galloway said "We're focusing on the fact that we're in the sports entertainment business and we have to interact with fans and sponsors. . . . We want to emphasize to our players that they need to be approachable."
Leading Asian American academics as well as other professional tours and players (including the PGA and ATP) have weighed in on this policy finding it offensive.
The legality of the policy remains a question. One argument frames up as follows:
"Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida, said a language requirement could be in violation of state law. 'Florida law prohibits discrimination in public accommodations,' he said. 'They may well violate Florida discrimination laws because language is a key element of person's national origin. People should be judged on their ability to perform a job. English fluency has no more to do with the ability to play 18 holes of golf than whether you walk 18 holes or ride 18 holes.'"
"Deputy Commisioner Galloway, however, said the LPGA can stand its legal ground. 'Organizations and businesses in general have the right to make requirements on skill sets necessary for their employers,' she said. 'We as a membership organization have the right to establish obligations that our members must adhere to in order to do the things fundamental to conduct our business.'"
For the most part, players seem to be voicing support for the program, including many of the tour's South Korean golfers.