Born and raised along Tobacco Road, the closest thing to professional baseball this area bestowed upon me was Bull Durham.
But thanks to the backlash Toronto Blue Jays general manager John Gibbons received back in April, I had a team to keep tabs on this past season.
Here’s why Gibbons’ outburst made headlines, summed up by SBN contributor Marc Normandin on Twitter:
“As for Gibbons, his frustration came from the umpires overturning pivotal runs scored on an Edwin Encarnacion grounder, as Jose Bautista’s slide was deemed illegal. That’s fine! Be frustrated, as it’s a frustrating moment, even if it was the right call. However, you can be audibly frustrated without resorting to sexism, as Gibbons did when he said, ‘Maybe we’ll come out and wear dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.’ Please stop identifying being a woman and anything feminine as a negative. There is literally no reason to go that route, and plenty of ways Gibbons could have expressed himself without needlessly putting down half the population.”
A joke about baseball being played in dresses is what we consider sexism?
Apparently we do because eight months later, there’s an outright ban on it.
Last week Major League Baseball outlawed hazing rituals involving rookies dressing up in female costumes.
But an important distinction: Dressing up as women wasn’t banned because the MLB wished to crack down on hazing.
Rather, according to MLB Vice President Paul Mifsud, it’s prohibited because it’s “insensitive and potentially offensive to a number of groups.”
Sportswriter Julie DiCaro wrote back in October regarding the rookie ritual:
“It begs the question: With anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the MLB fan base being female, should teams be sending the message that one of the most humiliating acts one can do to a man is to have him pretend to be a woman?”
That’s the takeaway? Baseball players dressing up as the opposite sex implies that being an actual female equates with humiliation? By this logic when I dressed up one year as a cowgirl as a kid, was I trying to humiliate actual cowgirls? Or is it common in American society to have fun by dressing up as people you’re not? I’ll side with the latter.
It’s the “boy who cried wolf.” Or, sorry, “person who cried wolf.” Apologies for using a non-inclusive pronoun.
It’s not sexism.
And neither is most of what the sports industry likes to deem as sexism. In fact, to suggest this industry is plagued with sexism is false, and I think it’s about time we recognize that.
When I decided to write about sports online I quickly learned that all of us, male and female, make mistakes in this industry. I write for a male-dominated crowd interested in (read: obsessed with) college football recruiting. It’s a niche audience, for sure. Grammar mishaps, incorrect analysis, and plenty of other mistakes happened when I first started and they still happen occasionally today. Just like you guys I’m not flawless at my job. And do you know how the male-dominated message boards I write for have treated me when I screw up? Exactly like the male writers. Not once has the message board jumped at the chance to offer unabashed criticism on the basis of me being a female.
But that narrative won’t die because some women owe their careers to insisting that narrative exists.
For instance, here’s what ESPN reporter Sarah Spain tweeted on election night:
What a baseless and absurd statement.
Donald Trump won 42 percent of the female vote. Presumably these 42 percent of women that voted for Donald Trump don’t hate women. It’s that kind of oversimplification that drives people nuts.
It’s the sports equivalent of suggesting Notre Dame isn’t included in the College Football Playoff Top 25 because the committee hates Catholics.
The #MoreThanMean video spearheaded by Spain and DiCaro that went viral back in the spring displayed humanity at its worst. Hopefully it’s raised awareness for cyber-bullying that saturates our society.
But I hope it’s raised awareness for all types of cyber-bullying, whether it’s directed at women, men, black people, white people, Hispanics, Asians, celebrities, athletes, politicians and beyond. Even the high school football players that I cover are often on the receiving end of repulsive words from “fans” online, just for committing or not committing to any given school.
The tweets directed at Spain and DiCaro in the video were from people that touted tiny numbers of followers and hid behind an online account. The insults did not originate from employers, co-workers, or colleagues. Like I said, they weren’t unique to women in sports.
All women want other women to have more opportunities.
You want females in broadcast booths instead of on the sideline? Start by encouraging women to chase internships that land them in the film room instead of interviewing the head coach at halftime.
You want females breaking down the draft’s cornerback classes? Encourage them to see who can turn his head the fastest in press coverage instead of encouraging the perfect head shot.
Who do I look up to in this business right now? Men and women alike.
Doris Burke’s a terrific NBA reporter. That’s why she’s an inspiration to me. Just like Kirk Herbstreit breaking down Alabama’s front seven or Jay Bilas discussing the Tar Heels in transition, I trust Burke knows her stuff. Not because she’s a woman, but because she’s an expert.
Gender doesn’t guide my influences; being elite at one’s craft does.
My suggestions to girls and guys in college wanting to break into the sports journalism industry don’t differ. Everyone wants to ask me my advice for younger girls. Why can’t it just be the same for everyone? Isn’t that what equality is by definition?
Here’s my advice, and what I tell myself, too:
Discipline should become your favorite word. Fall in love with the process. I’ll say it again: Fall in love with the process. (It’s the best part.) Have a sense of gratitude in everything, even failure (especially failure). If your third putt is longer than your second, it’s OK because you should adopt the mindset that it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. In other words, have the short-term memory span of a defensive back but don’t neglect film study.
Be honest down to the core in assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and then play to your strengths. Work the matchup. Don’t feel like you need to chime in with input just to prove how smart you are; likewise, don’t be afraid to speak up.
Excuses fall on deaf ears, especially excuses that involve your gender. Read opinion pieces of things you don’t anticipate you’ll agree with. The perspective is good. Pay close attention to the game instead of live-tweeting it. Write your own set of rules by which to live and work and revisit them constantly. (Gary Player’s book “Don’t Choke” offers some great examples.)
Have mentors or role models but don’t strive to be them because what you uniquely bring to the table is better in its own way, and it’s your job to see that those attributes flourish. The devil is in the details, but don’t lose sight of the big picture.
And finally, if you heed nothing but the following three points, you’ll make headway.
1.) “Sacks get stacks.” Know that being valuable in your industry and making money for your boss is a direct correlation.
2.) Treat others how you wish to be treated because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
3.) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
The right people, be it fans of the game, colleagues, or CEOs, will recognize your talent and value, if you have it regardless of your gender. I truly believe that.
If you can analyze, you can analyze. If you can coach, you can coach. If you can write, you can write. If you can throw a 98-mile-per-hour fastball, then you’re not a woman.
And if you’re a Major League Baseball player who wishes to wear a dress because the jokes and levity help team bonding, then go for it.
Because the only thing more ridiculous than sexism is screaming it in situations where it doesn’t apply at all.