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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 Bivens
In 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.


Doesn't this rule entail that a deaf player who couldn't speak English wouldn't be able to play on the LPGA tour?

Anonymous chrisb -- 8/28/2008 10:27 PM  

After the Casey decision, the question does seem to be whether speaking English is an "essential element" of the game of golf -- but that is the wrong way to think about this issue.

The LPGA is a private association and should be free to define its game however it pleases. If the LPGA wants to define a round of golf as "playing 18 holds and then discussing your performance in English at a press conference" then that is their definition of a round of golf. If the players don't like it, they are perfectly free to stop playing at LPGA events. If the fans don't like this rule, they can stop attending the games, watching TV coverage, or buying LPGA-branded merchandise.

If the LPGA (or a particular golf course) required spectators to be fluent in English the situation would be somewhat different. I would tend toward respecting the private preferences, but I suspect that would be more unusual.

Blogger Lior -- 8/28/2008 10:53 PM  


So then purses aren't awarded until the press conference has been judged? I eagerly await implemention of this policy.

Anonymous chrisb -- 8/29/2008 1:04 AM  

Chris -- I'm not sure what you mean.

Participation in post-game press conferences is mandatory in many sports operations (e.g. the NBA. WNBA, ATP, WTA) -- players are fequently disciplined for not showing up, and can even be disciplined if they don't wear the attire mandated by the organization.

The participants are not judged on their press-conference performance (in terms of winning the contest), but it is nevertheless a condition of participation. It's not different from mandating drug testing (which is also not part of the competition on the field).

When the LPGA hires a spokesperson, can they insist that the person speak English? When they hire staff to direct the spectators around the golf course, can they insist the staff speak English? If so, why can't they insist that the sports-related employees (i.e. the players; properly they are more like independent contractors) also speak English?

Don't get me wrong: I think that requiring players to learn English under pain of expulsion is a bad idea. But not all bad ideas should be illegal.

Blogger Lior -- 8/29/2008 5:43 AM  

I see that the dictatorial imperative that "everyone should 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 this at

Anonymous Brian Barker -- 8/31/2008 8:35 AM  

Nice going LPGA!

I know what you are going through, and I applaud your recent step towards where things should be.

I feel you!

Keep it up!

-John Rocker

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/01/2008 12:12 AM  

Bad PR move, unless the LPGA's target market is xenophobic Americans.

They should just hire translator/caddies. Problem solved.

Blogger Corry Cropper -- 9/03/2008 1:40 AM  

Last time I checked, the letter "L" in LPGA stands for "ladies", not "language".
The Asian players have been so dominating that LPGA feels obligated to create some distraction to slow them down-spend more time learning English rather than golf swing....what a GREAT idea !

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