“600 Words by Esther J. Cepeda”
Some people should be required to become fluent in the English language: all U.S. school children, employees, and first responders like policemen and doctors. These same people would certainly benefit from being fluently bilingual in English and any other foreign language, as well.
Who should not be required to become fluent in English? Tourists, visiting family members, and sports celebrities.
Sports celebrities communicate primarily through their bodies' achievements, they rely on grit, guts and determination to scale the heights of physical perfection. They shouldn't have to prove they can conjugate English verbs to win in their chosen game.
But in a stunning international gaffe, the Ladies Professional Golf Association has decided to require foreign-born players to become conversant in English by 2009 or face suspension.
Why? So they can address the ball – "helloooooo ball" – ala Ed Norton, without an accent? So they can make even more money by being able to talk to fans?
Nope, according to Libba Galloway, the deputy commissioner of the LPGA, as quoted in the New York Times: “We live in a sports-entertainment environment; for an athlete to be successful today in the sports entertainment world we live in, they need to be great performers on and off the course, and being able to communicate effectively with sponsors and fans is a big part of this.
“Being a U.S.-based tour, and with the majority of our fan base, pro-am contestants, sponsors and participants being English speaking, we think it is important for our players to effectively communicate in English.”
Give me a break!
Did Lorena Ochoa, the reigning queen of the links, who is Mexican through and through, need some stupid rule in order to learn English? No, she just instinctively knew she'd be better off learning English.
Ditto for, just as one more example, Milka Duno, the bombshell Venezuelan race car driver who at a Chicagoland Speedway Indy race last year insisted we conduct my interview in English because she needed to sharpen her skills. She didn't need some stupid rule to know that English is the language of success in this country and if she wanted to make the most of herself here, she'd better be intelligible.
Not that being intelligible kept Venezuelan Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen from winning the world series of baseball in 2005; those of us who speak Spanish fluently know it's difficult to understand his rapid fire ramblings in any language.
Nope, the LPGA's rule, which requires an oral evaluation to prove said English proficiency, is just plain stupid. And worse than that, it's doing more to degrade America's standing in the world as the welcoming, cosmopolitan melting-pot than a million "anti-immigrant" cable TV shows.
Already the world is weighing in on the pronouncement. Jin-Young Kim, a golf reporter at Korea's Seoul Economic Daily newspaper was quoted on MSN FOX Sports' website said, "It's not fair, we think it's like discrimination. We know it's very important to speak English in America and to be friendly with people. We all know. But it's not the standard, the method to cut or pass a player on the LPGA."
Here in the U.S., Asian organizations are, rightfully, outraged. FOX quotes Cao K. O, executive director of the Asian American Federation, in a protest letter: "Foreign-born players are needed here, and they help enhance the United States' global image and competitiveness." He further wrote: "We should make them feel welcome, encouraged, and appreciated. It does not make economic sense to create an atmosphere in which foreign-born players feel unfairly treated, because English proficiency is not performance relevant with respect to playing golf."
And that's the bottom line: proving your athletic prowess on any level playing field requires no words. Think of how the world would have scoffed if the Chinese had required proficiency in Mandarin prior to Beijing's games. Would the U.S., Spain, or Brazil think of announcing, today, a requirement of host-country language proficiency in 2016? Of course not, that's silly.
And it's not like the players themselves don't want to master our language. Hall of Famer Se Ri Park told the New York Times: '“We agree we should speak some English,” said Pak, who added that she thought fines seemed a fairer penalty than suspensions. “We play so good over all. When you win, you should give your speech in English.”'
But why even go as far as penalties? Neither baseball, basketball, hockey, nor soccer – other sports with a high number of foreign-born players – have such Draconian regulations in place, they know working as a team to win transcends culture and language and unites players of all backgrounds.
Who can know why the LPGA is going down this road – their stance that corporate sponsorships hang in the balance is spurious as best, and what corporation now wants to underwrite perceived discrimination? – but only time will tell what forecasted litigation will bring.
In the best-case scenario the LPGA spends a lot of money and tries to wipe this ridiculous chapter from their history books. In the worst-case scenario, they continue making boobs of themselves, and America, until someone in a leadership position comes to their senses.
Esther J. Cepeda writes the "600 Words" & "Pregunta del Dia" columns, and is also the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her views and reporting do not necessarily reflect those of ISAC. "600 words" is a registered trademark of EeJayCee, Inc., Copyright 2008. May be reprinted with permission, contact firstname.lastname@example.org