Vetting the LPGAs Reversal


The joke going around the water coolers in golfs power hallways late last week went something like this:
PRESS RELEASE: The 121 foreign women on the LPGA have announced that commissioner Carolyn Bivens is officially on notice. If she doesnt improve her leadership skills in the next two years; become more fluent in the language of the sports power brokers; and if she doesnt pass an evaluation test of her decision-making abilities, she could face a suspension from her official duties.
It was a wicked send-up of the mess Bivens created last month when the organization she runs, the LPGA, ham-fistedly threatened its players with possible suspensions for those who could not pass an English language evaluation starting at the end of 2009.
The firestorm of controversy that met this announcement could have melted the faces right off Mt. Rushmore. Then word out of Los Angeles came that the Asian Pacific American Legal Center was planning a news conference to demand the LPGA rescind this new policy. State Farm Insurance, one of the LPGAs most valued sponsors, publicly distanced itself from the dictum.
So the LPGA finally got its head and its heart in the right place: Bivens admitted the policy, no matter how well-grounded its aims may have been, was wrong-headed in its potential implementation.
The LPGA has received valuable feedback from a variety of constituents regarding the recently announced penalties attached to our effective communications policy, read the tersely-worded statement out of the LPGAs Florida headquarters Friday. We have decided to rescind those penalty provisions.
In other words, the next Korean women to win a major championship wont be expected to make like Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention.
This is a good thing because Korean, Japanese and Chinese are languages that have little in common with English. Add to that, the fact that three Asian women and a Mexican won the four womens majors in 2008 and you can justify cause for concern.
The LPGA is a sponsor-driven organization that thrives in an environment where those sponsors can point to the fan-friendly behavior of its players and the on-course bonhomie engendered between the best women golfers in the world and their pro-am partners.
Bivens was dead on when she publicized the need for all the LPGAs players to raise their games in the area of communicating to the public. She was dead in the water when it came to carrying out a plan.
After hearing the concerns, we believe there are other ways to share our objective of supporting and enhancing the business opportunities for every Tour player, the Friday LPGA release went on to say. In that spirit, we will continue communicating with our diverse Tour players to develop a better alternative. The LPGA will announce a revised approach, absent playing penalties, by the end of 2008.
In short, the LPGA stared the overwhelming weight of public opinion in the face.
And the LPGA blinked.
It had to back off because theres too much golf money from the Asian rim at stake. The LPGA's biggest single revenue source is TV money from Korea. And there was too much evidence from too many interviewed civil liberties experts warning the LPGA wouldnt have a legal leg to stand on in the courts if it didnt soften its stance.
This should also serve as a wake up call for the small number of parents of foreign players on the LPGA who dont really want their daughters to become proficient in English. Yes, there are golf parents out there who believe the time it takes their daughters to learn English and do more interviews, is time taken away from the daughters on the practice tee.
This is part of the battle Bivens has been fighting since she took over as commissioner three years ago.
She lost the skirmish this time and it has cost her valuable political capital in a powerful position that has always been a fragile one because of the diverse demands of its members. She is the seventh LPGA commissioner in a relatively short time. A few more poorly-vetted policies and there will begin to be whispers that she is starting to run out of mistakes.
The LPGA didnt need a translation to get the message, said the New York Daily News.
To be sure, the LPGA needs to get everybody on the same page before it can expect everybody to speak the same language. And that means doing a better job judging the impact of its decisions before those decisions are made public.
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