Jan Stephenson should thank her lucky stars she chose Asians to criticize.
The notoriously outspoken former LPGA icon told Golf Magazine, in an issue out this week, that Asians are "killing" women's golf. She also called for quotas to limit the percentage of Asians on the LPGA Tour.
Race-based quotas to limit the number of a certain minority in a sport? Discrimination solely on the basis of ethnicity? Appalling. But for her unfair generalizations, Stephenson got ... nothing. No punishment whatsoever. She apologized and continued to play in her weekend tournament.
Where are the presidential candidates full of outrage? Where is the special edition of Nightline? If a former baseball player called for quotas to limit the number of Hispanic pitchers, he would be vilified.
But Stephenson gets words of rebuke from LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw and some tour members, and that's about it. Why? Part of the reason, certainly, has to do with the fact that football is a national obsession and women's golf is a minor sport. But it's more than that. In America, verbal attacks on Asians are not condemned nearly as often or as strongly as they should be.
"It's the way Asians are perceived versus African-Americans or other minorities," says Jeff Yang, former publisher of A Magazine. "Somehow it's OK to suggest restrictions against Asians because we won't fight back and we are fundamentally more foreign."
Consider a weekend poll on MSNBC.com that asked, "Is Jan Stephenson right that Asian players are hurting the LPGA Tour?" Of 8,439 responses as of noon Monday, 50 percent said yes.
Does half of America think Latinos are hurting baseball? That African-Americans are hurting basketball? That Europeans are hurting hockey? Let's hope not. Because those groups, much like Koreans in the LPGA, are making their sports remarkably better. And still somehow, half of the MSNBC.com poll respondents think Asians are hurting women's golf.
Don't even think about suggesting that Stephenson's comments have some merit if race is left out of the equation. Stephenson chides Asians for qualities that are also shown by many white players. She blames Asians (as a group, mind you) for their "lack of emotion." But wasn't lack of emotion a problem for the LPGA even before the Asian invasion? Didn't commissioner Ty Votaw encourage his players to wear sexy clothes in an attempt to add some pizzazz and boost the tour's popularity?
Annika Sorenstam wasn't exactly Miss Personality before her gutsy play at the Colonial. And Karrie Webb has never been accused of being the life of the LPGA party.
Here's what Stephenson said about Sorenstam in the very same interview with Golf Magazine: "With Annika you're scared to say anything. Her locker is always next to mine, and I don't know her. I've left notes of congratulations on her locker because I'm scared to bother her. She's so focused all the time -- I just wonder what she's really like."
So is Annika ruining the LPGA Tour? Of course not. She's simply "focused all the time." And Karrie Webb is "working really hard." Didn't Tiger Woods revolutionize golf and usher in a new era of PGA Tour popularity with his laser-like intensity and intimidation? Tiger saved golf from its reputation as a backslapping country club sport because of his youth and focus. He rarely says anything controversial, he doesn't show up on TRL, and he has become more and more reclusive as his career has taken off. He simply plays with a fervor that makes playing partners, well, scared. Does Stephenson -- or anyone else -- begrudge Tiger his right to just play? Not really. And Tiger is as much Asian as he is black.
So why has Stephenson escaped without punishment? Because there are few prominent Asian-Americans in politics or sports journalism to take her to task. The Rush Limbaugh controversy might have died if journalists in Philadelphia didn't ask Donovan McNabb to comment several days after Limbaugh expressed his opinion on Sunday NFL Countdown. Then came input from political leaders like Al Sharpton and respected columnists like Ralph Wiley, and now Rush is off the ESPN airwaves. There is no similar outcry about the Stephenson situation.
Why not? Name a leading Asian-American political figure. Now name a well-known Asian-American in sports journalism. "Asian-Americans as a whole don't have a spokesperson," says Melissa Hung, editor of Hyphen Magazine. "We don't have a Jesse Jackson."
There is no Asian equivalent of presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun (African-American), or columnist Dan LeBatard (Latino). Maybe that's because when CEOs and editors think of diversity, they do not think of Asian-Americans. Or maybe it's because Asian-Americans don't apply for political or journalistic leadership positions as often as they could. Or maybe it's because we have all been educated about the horrors perpetrated on blacks, Latinos and Native Americans, but not as much about Japanese internment camps and sweatshop conditions in Chinatowns across the country. But the end result is that racism directed against Asians is not considered as toxic as other forms of racism.
"We're still more of a minority fundamentally than African-Americans or Latinos or gays," says Yang. "We have not been active in speaking out, and we have been easily appeased. Because we don't cry foul, we're more fair game."
This must change. There will be more Ichiro Suzukis and Hideki Matsuis in baseball. There will be more Yao Mings in basketball. And surely there will be more Se Ri Paks in golf. One need only look at 13-year-old Asian-American phenom Michelle Wie -- who, by the way, is about as charismatic as any white golfer on the LPGA Tour -- for proof. And just as the number of Latinos in baseball has far outpaced the number of Latinos in journalism, the amount of Asians in golf will continue to exceed the number of those in a position to defend them.
The question is: Will empowered Americans like Votaw choose to limit Asian athletes with quotas, or limit intolerance by punishing discrimination in all forms?
Eric Adelson is a senior writer for ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.