Those of us who grew up in the 1990s remember when The Sandlot was released, in the spring of ’93. Baseball fans united over a ragtag group of ball players, lead by Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, who met to play pick-up baseball as seriously as if they were in game seven of the World Series, all day, every day. I was 11 and saw it in the theatre with my older brother, Matt, and everything was going fine until Hamilton “Hammy” Porter, facing down the local Little League team, screamed, “YOU PLAY BALL LIKE A GIRL!” A full-out brawl ensued, as if this insult was the worst of the worst. As a diehard ball player (even more so then), I booed loudly and started to pelt the screen with M&Ms. My brother had to tell me to calm down or he was calling our parents to take us home.
But surely we’ve come a long way, right? Imagine my surprise when I was faced with the exact same sentiment, 23 years later, on Tuesday night. John Gibbons, manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, in response to a new MLB regulation that cost them their third win of the season, told the press, “Maybe we’ll go out there wearing dresses tomorrow” for all the limitations the new Chase Utley rule imposes. My jaw dropped, and I wished for M&Ms to throw at the TV. And I wasn’t the only one. The Twittersphere exploded with rage for the social unacceptability of Gibbons’ remark. He’s dug himself even further into the hole by saying that everyone should “lighten up” and that his mother, daughter and wife weren’t offended by the commentary.
This problem is bigger than this one incident, this one coach. We need to stop using femininity as an insult in every arena, let alone sports—because it’s 2016, to paraphrase our prime minister. There have been incredible female athletes on every court and field, on every rink and in every stadium, for decades—since before it was even socially acceptable for women to wear pants—with skills most men would kill to have.
Toughness isn’t determined by gender; it’s determined by a convergence of so many factors, including heart, passion and hard work. The same goes for women in law, medicine, education, philosophy, the arts, and the armed forces. Ditto for women who stay home to raise children. (For that matter, newsflash: It’s really friggin’ hard, both mentally and physically, to carry and deliver a baby.)
I watch baseball with my Blue Jays superfan daughter at every opportunity. As a catcher myself, who has taken cleats to the shins more times than I can count, and once had a raspberry the size of a salad plate from sliding into home, I don’t want her to hear from anyone—especially not the manager of her beloved Jays—that being a girl, that wearing a dress, is a sign of weakness on a baseball field or anywhere else. It’s an idea we need to lose from the conversation altogether. It wasn’t OK in 1993, and it’s definitely not OK now.