Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Demading English on the LPGA Tour

I blogged as neutrally as possible at Waggle Room about the story out of last week's meeting of South Korean players at the LPGA Tour Safeway Classic in which Commissioner Carolyn Bivens revealed that the Tour would demand English proficiency for players having been on Tour for two years or more.

After taking some time to think about it - the hypocrisy of Bivens, the importance of English in this culture and the world, and the struggling sponsorship situation - this is a must for the LPGA Tour.

Does it wreak of hypocrisy? Oh yeah. Carolyn Bivens has been on record talking about how Asian players strengthen the Tour and has followed the money that comes with the advent of Asian dominance of the Tour. There's a legitimate Asian swing with another potentially developing in the early part of the season because of struggling Hawaiian events. Bivens wants to follow the money from Asia and Asian fans, but also demands the players speak English.

But, English is the language of this Tour. At least for now, the Tour is US based. The language spoken here - predominantly - is English. Sponsors sign advertising and sponsorship agreements in that idioma (a lil Spanish joke). They pay thousands and millions to play with Tour pros. Any players paired with these groups that speak poor English have a tough time making the experience enjoyable, or at least not totally awkward. With how much sponsorship is struggling here in the US for the LPGA Tour (and golf in general), it would seem that any measure would help.

Invariably, this language requirement will help the Tour here in the States, especially with fans and media that find connecting with Asian players next to impossible at times. Certainly, this is not true across the board. One need not look further than the great LPGA-niched blogs that I reference to know that hardcore, good LPGA fans don't care about any language except that of golf. It is a unifying language to the truest of fans. But for those who don't speak golf, they want English to understand the game's up and coming stars.

Americans tend to root for people who are somewhat like us, or at least willing to immerse themselves into our culture. So many people think of Annika Sorenstam as an American though she clearly isn't. It's the lack of a language barrier and years of excellence that have made our fans so grateful and respectful of her.

Se Ri Pak is a great example of the evolution of feelings of fans for Asian players. When Pak (really Park) arrived ten years ago and took the game by storm, she didn't speak a lick of English. She has worked hard, though, to learn and become proficient in the language. It has made her more endearing to fans who are more likely to think of her like Annika than Na Yeon Choi. Still, there is a gap there because she still gaps in the language.

Do I think it's fair how players will be targeted? No. Does it seem like a suspension of membership for not knowing English is awfully harsh? Yes. But, it does seem important that the Tour make strides to get players proficient in the global language of business. Otherwise, the Tour cannot cash in on opportunities around the world - something it desperately needs to do given the current sponsorship situation.

It is simply my hope, though, that this does not become an arbitrary witch hunt as part of an attempt to Americanize the Asian stars. They offer the same Five Elements of Celebrity as a player of any other nationality. To ask them to shed any more of their natural diversity and cultural appeal other than their language would be too much to ask. Hopefully this does not set such a precedent.


Unknown said...

I'm still stewing on this, so I don't have an set opinion on the new rules, but I wanted to add something regarding your comments on Se-Ri Pak. The way her name is pronounced in Korean really is "Pahk", with a short "a". No sign of an "r" at all. So actually the "Park" romanization, which pretty common, is further away from the actual spoken Korean than "Pak" is. For what it's worth... :)

Anonymous said...

I watch golf on TV because I enjoy the game and I admire the skills of the players. It is also a form of entertainment and as such one has their own interests and favorite players. My favorites are Lorena, Paula, Morgan etc. but I also have no problem cheering for the likes of Se Ri Pak Kimberly Kim or the new young lady from Brazil Angela Park that can communicate in english. When they along with any of the other english speaking women are in contention and they are the primary part of the telecast I am glued to the TV set because I feel I have something in common with them and when they come off the course and are interviewed I like to hear what they have to say. When that interview is with someone that has an interpreter wether it is one of the Korean girls or that spanish guy that won the US Open I loose interest and change the channel. I only watch things I enjoy and hearing someone's opinion or comments through a third party to me is not at all appealing. They do not have to be eloquent or fluent just be themselves and people will probably become attached to them and maybe become fans. For what it worth that is my 2 cent worth.

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