I read with interest a story about the LPGA tour requiring all of its membership to speak English beginning in 2009. Tour members have two years to learn the language and pass an oral evaluation of their English skills.
My initial reaction was, “Big Brother is watching over you.” It seemed like a personal infringement based on pressure from the tour’s public relations office. Dozens of women from the Far East, most notably Korea, have infused the LPGA Tour with talent. Along with playing the tournaments, part of the job for professional golfers is to play in the Wednesday pro-ams. Obviously it makes for a more enjoyable round for the amateurs when their professional speaks English. Couple that with the public relations aspect of the tour and promoting of the sport – which finds its home in the United States. Part in parcel with that is conducting intelligible interviews with the American media.
While the Tour has some valid points, it is also a clear case of micro-managing The PGA Tour does not have a English-speaking requirement, although the majority of non-American players are already fluent in English. No other professional sport has any similar rules in an effort to promote their sport.
Clearly the Olympics prove that understanding English is irrelevant to fan support. The Chinese love their native son, NBA player Yao Ming. They love NBA superstar Kobe Bryant nearly as much, and I would guess half a billion people in China speak little to no English.
Promoting a sport comes first from a player’s performance. Excellence on the field of play reels the fans in. With a touch of charisma or elan, you then have a superstar. Perhaps that next superstar is a Korean who speaks no English. In that event, her actions would speak much louder than any English words.
There was a question in “30 Seconds” earlier this week in which a man asked why the New York Yankees are often given front-page coverage, while the New York Mets – who were in first place at the time the man called in – do not. The Yankees appear on the front page of our sports section for the same reason the New York Giants often get preferential NFL coverage over the Bills and Jets. In our readership area, there are simply more fans – and readers – of the Yankees and Giants than other New York teams. I am a lifelong Bills supporter and would love to supplant some Giants coverage. However, my first obligation is to our readership and their preferences.