There appears to be a new culture on the rise.
The culture of baseball continues to be challenged and changed by Major League Baseball, with the PTB taking seriously issues of sexism, violence and homophobia. On Monday, MLB announced that dressing as women for rookie hazing is now prohibited.
The news was received on social media with a mix of emotions and thoughts, with many wondering what the point was, while others expressed support for the move, believing it to be a positive step toward shutting down discriminatory attitudes. The statement was part of an Anti-Bullying/Anti-Discrimination effort by MLB, which prohibits teams from the following AP wire:
“…from requiring, coercing or encouraging” players to engage in activities that include, “dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristic.”
There’s several disappointing elements to players being angry about new rule when you read that statement in full. The most glaring oversight from those who think the new rule is utterly dumb, is that perhaps they didn’t consider the bullying connection to young fans. Many young boys and girls falling in love with the game are also dealing with bullying at school for any number of reasons. MLB is looking to the future of the game, and seem to be saying to them, and to parents, “Don’t worry, not here.” If a young boy identifies as a girl, and his parents encourage that, and if he’s also a baseball fan, he ‘s receiving a message that dressing “as a girl” is funny and worthy of teasing.
Digging deeper, young players are being asked to see women differently. MLB is asking them, no, telling them, to regard women through a more respectful spectrum, by challenging them to re-think their “traditions.” You might not see the practice as sexist, and that’s ok; but MLB is taking a decisive step to ensure that there’s no risk of that. The rule isn’t about players, or their feelings; it’s about people outside of their bubble, whose experience in the world is different than theirs.
Also, consider how many gay players throughout the years felt uncomfortable participating in something that celebrated hyper masculinity/machismo. Perhaps they had fun because, yes, the whole thing is meant to be fun. But homophobic attitudes have also been the norm in sports. We can imagine ignoring that underlying element was difficult. The idea is that to be gay, means you’re not a man. And what better way to humiliate a man than to make him dress as a woman?
Plenty of players, according to one former player, just didn’t get what was so great about the tradition when forced to participate.
Garrett Broshius, a lawyer who now leads the MiLB lawsuit seeking fairer pay for MiLB players, had this to say in response to one of my tweets:
“yes, this was not “fun” for a lot of players. Too often it was demeaning.”
Aubrey Huff weighed in with the opposite reaction with this tweet:
“For all u easily offended people, here’s a pic of me HARRASSING (his caps) a poor innocent rookie.”
He then attached a photo of him helping dress a rookie in a leopard suit, which, per the policy, isn’t prohibited.
Kevin Youkilis was even more emotional about the announcement, taking to his Twitter account:
“Seriously?! Had to wear a Hooters outfit going through customs in Toronto and wore it proudly because I was in the Show.”
Making his major league debut was likely cooler than wearing a Hooters outfit. But what bothers him, and other former and current players so much about this new rule? They can’t wear ladies clothes for a day? They can’t goof around without consequences? Or are they bothered by being challenged to not see feminine culture and women in general, as something worth respecting, and not reducing them to mockery? Ok, so you can’t wear garters and lipstick as a male bonding ritual (Honestly, this part loses me every time). So what?
On Tuesday, as if it hadn’t gotten weird enough, it got weirder, when San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow made an emotionally charged statement on a radio show about the new rule.
“I think it’s ridiculous. A lot of these kids come up out of the minor leagues after having been there for four or five years, they get to the big leagues and they cannot wait to put a dress on. They want to be part of it. It’s tradition.”
He then went on to discuss Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s theme night for travel days, in which, as Krukow explains, “They put on pajamas or a superhero costume…now [MLB] is taking it to another level.”
The statement of defeated outrage likely wasn’t meant to be funny, but…it was! It’s probably news to many that baseball players look forward to wearing a dress. Again, back to the central question of why? Most players will say it’s just fun. Well, so is dressing up as a super hero. So is hanging out at a bar, shooting the breeze and having a drink. So is playing baseball, at least in many ways it is (minor leaguers definitely don’t have it easy). So then let’s expand the central question to, why is dressing in traditionally feminine attire and mocking female behavior so important? Why is losing that “privilege” such a big deal?
New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, per a New York Post story written by Ken Davidoff, said simply, “I wouldn’t say I understand it, but I really have no say in it. I’m not going to be bitter about it.”
This seemed to summarize the problem. They don’t understand it. And they’re being asked to. In any workplace, there are boundaries. But in sports, those boundaries aren’t often set, and if they are, they aren’t respected, or, as that player said, their value isn’t completely understood . A baseball field and a clubhouse aren’t like a normal office, where men and women are expected to treat each other as equals. No, in sports, women have a place and they have to fight to get outside those lines. Players wouldn’t understand that unless they tried. And many don’t want to try. That’s not to insinuate Syndergaard wouldn’t understand if you explained the other side of things. Many players will more than likely get beyond worrying about this pretty fast.
Truthfully, baseball can be a safe haven for bad behavior, as all sports are. And in recent years, decisions have been made to change that, usually due to public outcry.
A few years ago, MLB cracked down on problems with players on social media, issuing guidelines that players must follow in order to engage on SM platforms. And last year, a new Domestic Violence Policy was agreed upon, allowing MLB to suspend players regardless of a court’s decision, among other things.
How many of these same players took a vocal stand on domestic violence, when players, especially teammates, were involved? They’ll take a stand on their right to mock women, but not to actually show respect for women’s bodies and safety. The same Mets players are supporting their teammate Jose Reyes, who was arrested for violently attacking his wife. They likely would never take to Twitter to rant about that. In that NY Post story, Brandon Nimmo, a fine person whom I had the pleasure of covering in the minors, is pictured with Reyes. He had a measured, thoughtful, if not neutral response.
“For me it was a good experience. We were lucky to have a good group of veterans who didn’t exploit it.”
Nimmo never showed anything but the utmost respect to me and other women in baseball, so to categorize him as insensitive or thoughtless about the issue would be unfair. He doesn’t fit under that umbrella. Surely like many players, he’s not for or against it, and enjoyed just doing something traditional and fun when making his big league debut.
Which brings up the subject of the connectedness to all of this with women in sports media; have you ever walked into a clubhouse and been ridiculed for being a woman? Have you ever heard players screaming and yelling and catcalling so loudly, that your voice couldn’t be heard, so you walked out, only to have the player follow you and taunt you more? Have you ever heard a player faking a lengthy orgasm, of what he seems to think women sound like when sexually satisfied? Have you ever listened to two players talk about what another teammate wants to do to you sexually? Have you ever been questioned about how you look or what you’re wearing by a colleague who said you don’t look like a baseball writer, or a player who says you should expect to be sexually harassed when entering the clubhouse? Have you ever been asked, by a player in the clubhouse, “What if we were all naked?” or heard one yell, “What’s that girl doing in here?” to laughter? Have you ever come in contact with what women in sports call a “towel dropper”, and him wait until you turned, dropped the towel and laugh in your face? Well, I have. And that’s not the half of it. That’s the way many players, coaches, managers, and men working in baseball view women, and it doesn’t matter that I’m a professional. My female-ness, my being a woman, my wearing lipstick and heels and a dress are symbols of something outside the macho realm, therefore, I don’t belong. That’s why dressing up like us is so funny. We’re worthy of ridicule. And when we enter the room as serious professionals, the jig is up. The emotions run high, and their brains don’t seem to know what to do. A woman is present. And God forbid you take that seriously.
They want us to “understand” bro culture, but they plainly say they don’t understand anyone who isn’t on board with what they do or say, and they don’t want to hear from anyone who isn’t. They accuse anyone in disagreement of being too sensitive, but they’re reacting with a high level of hysteria over not being able to wear a bra and lipstick.
In response to Huff, former professional pitcher with the San Francisco Giants, Shane Loux, tweeted, “I remember that. So much fun. Has any player spoken out against this or is it only columnists who were never part of anything like this ever?”
I responded to him by saying, no, many of us weren’t part of that. Just like players aren’t a part of what we experience. As a writer and reporter, and columnist, I’ve heard every sort of offensive thing directed at me by players. But I still write about them, still keep covering the game. Because I try to understand people, and their experiences; it’s amazing what you can do when you try. And, in my case, I shouldn’t have to try to understand why I’ve been treated that way. It’s possible none of them thought about it like that. That’s fine. Then you can’t ask others to understand your fun and games, if you don’t regard others opinions and thoughts as worth listening to.
Baseball is changing, but you know what hasn’t changed? They’re playing a game for a living. And major league players making millions emoting on Twitter over not being able to have fun anymore is, well, laughable. You’ll have plenty of fun. You’re playing baseball. Women love you. Men want to be you.
What players now have to do, outside of the fun of playing the game, and getting a healthy paycheck is take the time to understand things they might never have before. We get it. Being feminine is humorous. It’s hilarious that we’re women, and its why many of them think they can treat us like garbage when we walk into a locker room. It’s hard to let privilege go. Replacing it with being grateful, and listening to other people who ARE outside of your experiences, isn’t easy. But that’s what’s now expected of them. These guys aren’t bad people for participating in that tradition, not by any means. But they have to move on now. Take the time to listen to the message in the language MLB is using.
Major league baseball is taking steps to be more inclusive, and to be more aware of what’s important and the message they’re sending, not just to fans, but to their players. Playing baseball for a living, not getting to dress like women for a day, sounds like a fairly easy deal. It’s a new day for baseball players. And still a pretty great one.