Should the rest of America take a cue from women's professional golf? ESPN reports:
The LPGA will require its member golfers to learn and speak English and will suspend their membership if they don't comply.
The new requirement, first reported by Golfweek on its Web site, was communicated to the tour's growing South Korean membership in a mandatory meeting at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 20. Connie Wilson, the LPGA's vice president of communications, confirmed the new policy to ESPN.com. ...
Players were told by LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens that by the end of 2009, all players who have been on the tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills or face a membership suspension.
The market is speaking loud and clear here: If athletes can't speak the prevalent language of this country, there's no point in spending millions of dollars endorsing them. It is very important for players to be able to be interviewed and give acceptance speeches in English, without the help of a translator, especially if they want to sign high-priced endorsement contracts and have companies place their logos on their hats, shirts, and golf clubs. Speaking English is the key to on-going success in professional sports. It's just a fact.
Nike will spend $3.4 billion endorsing athletes in 2008, and I'm sure companies prefer their representative athletes speak the same language of those who watch these sporting events and buy the companies' products. And it wouldn't surprise me to find out that sponsors like Nike dropped a few hints about this to the LPGA.
The initial memo was sent to a number of Korean players, and some are speculating that the new rule is intended to reduce the growing number golfers from South Korea on tour. That, however, would make no economic sense. It would be far more strategic to maximize the fame of any player in as many markets as possible, in South Korea and the United States. Why limit an athlete's fan base to one demographic?
And let's be honest: The only country in the world where a woman can become wealthy playing golf is the United States of America. What other country has the wealth and leisure to provide an audience for women's golf? Therefore, having the players speak English is absolutely necessary if the LPGA Tour expects to remain profitable, revenue-generating sport.
What it comes down to is that it's a business decision. The rule does not target Korean players; the rule targets people who will get in the way of LPGA Tour sustaining itself. After all, the only sport more uninteresting to watch, as some Americans would argue, is women's basketball.
LPGA, it's your league. Keep the rule.