There was an explosion, and not the bunker-shot kind, over the new language policy of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). The policy calls for the suspension of players unable to speak English by the end of 2009. As the LPGA struggles to defend their controversial rule internationally, we asked Paula Wagoner, associate professor of anthropology, about what this American organization’s decree says to the rest of the world.
What does the LPGA’s new demand for its players to speak English say about American culture?
It is all about the lingua franca, having a common language used by speakers of different languages, these days. The worst thing the LPGA could have done was to make speaking English mandatory for its players. The LPGA is formulating their rule in favor of what sponsors want. If American news shows can have subtitles or voiced-over translations of guest speakers but not for great golfers; what does this contradiction say? This rule is about American sponsor’s unwillingness to bend to language barriers on their quest for profits.
The LPGA insisted that the purpose of its language policy is to help players maximize their earning power while promoting the tour at the same time; however, Asians are the largest group of non-English speakers. What happens when one culture feels threatened or signaled out by another culture?
They can feel marginalized, excluded. I would hate to learn an Asian language in order to play golf. I would not be able to play in South Korea if they made me learn Korean. It would take too much time away from my golfing.
Is the policy, which suspends golfers if they cannot speak English, the best way for the LPGA to handle the pressure from American companies?
No. It takes away from the notion of sport. Is a sport mastering a game or has it been reduced to a commodity. It should be an individual’s choice whether to learn English or not. The issue is not really the LPGA’s to address.
Do you feel that it is justifiable for a country to have sports which exclude other cultures from participating in them?
No. The excluded group should create another league. Perhaps they might even become the more attractive league and gain more competitors.
If this were the PGA and men were making this rule, do you think it would be received differently?
The point is that men have not done this. For example, the Argentinean golfer, Angel Cabrera, won the 2007 U.S. Open over Tiger Woods and he does not speak English. No one made a fuss about that. However, the LPGA’s rule change surprised me, since women stereotypically are more inclusive and accommodating. I would have expected them to support each other through the sport and not to have created a rule dividing them.
- Rachel Kern, ’09, Juniata Online Journalist