There won’t be any pictures in this post.
If you want to see Bryce Harper and other rookies for the Washington Nationals dressed as female gymnasts, sporting just leotards as they board Amtrak, you can Google it. It’s out there.
If you want to see other rookies dressed as nurses, French maids, or ballerinas in tutus and bedazzled headbands, head to Twitter where respected athletes with a large audience and their media counterparts are Retweeing them in high volume this time of the year.
On the surface the hazing and the photos that follow are meant to entertain, but at their core they reduce Major League Baseball, its’ players, and its’ fans to the lowest common denominator, one of sophomoric humor and blatant homophobia, undermining everything that MLB is saying in regards to equality and sensitivity. The glorification of hazing, especially feminization, are in direct opposition to the stance that MLB took this week in punishing a player for spreading a message of hate and the hypocrisy is glaringly obvious.
And for that reason, I won’t post them.
Following widespread criticism, the Toronto Blue Jays suspended Yunel Escobar for three games after a fan’s photo caught Escobar in the act of insensitivity, the words “Tu Ere Maricon” written on his eye black stickers in Saturday’s game versus the Boston Red Sox.
“You are a ******.” That was Escobar’s message to anyone that came within ten feet of him or owned a high-resolution camera lens. It was a message that was understood by those who speak Spanish or the ability to Google, and no one stopped him. Not his teammates, coaches, or ownership. While we’ll never know if anyone said something to him in regards to the message of hate scrawled across his cheeks, I think we all agree that the likelihood that someone of authority or equal status seeing and understanding the message is pretty high.
There’s an undeniable groupthink to this sort of behavior. Walk into any locker room for any sport, and it’s likely you’ll find the same sophomoric and politically incorrect humor. Chances are, you’ll hear players chiding each other and posturing their masculinity and toughness. Chances are, you’ll hear comments much worse than the message Escobar wore on Saturday. There’s a history of baseball players getting in trouble for homophobic slurs, and sadly, it’s unlikely Escobar will be the last. In 2006, Ozzie Guillen was fined and forced to take sensitivity training for calling reporter Jay Mariotti a homophobic slur, and in 2001 Julian Tavares apologized after calling San Francisco Giants fans **********.” Tavares was also fined, and following the incident, over 2000 gay Cubs fans appeared at a game at Wrigley Field as part of the Pride Celebration.
When it became public, the Blue Jays issued a statement that, “the club takes this situation seriously and is investigating the matter. [We] do not support the discrimination of any kind nor condone the message displayed by Yunel Escobar during Saturday’s game.” That’s the type of response the organization should have, taking a stance that the message of hate from any player would not be tolerated, and that it was decidedly not okay for that message to be conveyed. However, the press conference that followed seemed like a disjointed effort to issue apologies. While there was an insistence for better behavior, and an attempt to placate those offended by offering the salary earned during the three-game suspension, roughly $92,000, to You Can Play, an organization dedicated to ensuring equality for all athletes, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the apology for Escobar’s actions was lacking. It’s likely that some of the insincerity and commentary about having gay friends is part of a cultural divide between Escobar’s current life and his upbringing in Cuba, but the apology certainly didn’t feel like progress—it felt contrived.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s office decided that the punishment handed down by the Jays was sufficient for Escobar and they wouldn’t intervene with a larger punishment. Of the incident, Selig said, “I consistently say that baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities. I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game’s diverse fan base deserves.” While there’s debate over whether or not the league handled out the right punishments in these instances, MLB has a pattern that’s clear: Handling matters of social equality has largely been reactionary, instead of pro-active.
To give credit where it is due, MLB has made some effort to raise awareness of equality, especially where gay rights are concerned. Last season, several teams made “It Gets Better” videos, in support of a project whose mission is that, “Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are.” The videos are geared at bullied youth and gave players a venue to speak up against hate and intolerance, which is progressive in it’s own right, but the problem is that league leadership and its’ players have trouble practicing what they are preaching, creating a great divide in message and execution.
The things that got Escobar in trouble are the same principles being embraced and glorified in the MLB hazing rituals. The humiliation, embarrassment, and forced feminization of rookie players is seen as nothing more as a rite of passage, but is creating a double standard. The current incarnation of hazing is focused on degradation and diminishing masculinity, stigmatizing homosexuals. Embracing the blatantly homophobic practice is not only socially irresponsible, it is in direct opposition to Selig’s statement of respect and sensibility…yet no one seems to mind.
Hazing is nothing new. Physical abuse, humiliation, and being forced to wear inappropriate clothing, can be traced back to 387 B.C. and Plato’s academy. The tradition is ever present in classrooms, fraternities, and sports, with the common mission of turning the uncivilized and uneducated into refined members of the group through initiation. Once they are initiated, they’ve paid their dues, and assume roles as leaders when it’s time to initiate the next class. While it’s a ritual that’s been around for centuries, not all hazing is treated equal.
Some baseball hazing is innocent. There shouldn’t be an outcry over the Yoda backpack that San Diego Padres rookies bonded with last season. Seeing Stephen Strasburg dressed as Papa Smurf during his rookie season didn’t raise any eyebrows. But for some teams it’s less innocuous and gender-bending becomes the focus. It’s no longer a Yoda backpack, it’s a pink backpack and a feather boa. When Papa Smurf is replaced by lingerie and high heels, that’s the hazing that is concerning.
In photos I’ve seen, the rookies certainly do not look tortured. While some players have expressed embarrassment, others have embraced their moment in drag, posing for photographs with smiles and laughs, while the veteran players snap pictures like paparazzi. But, however accepting the recipient of the abuse, and though all participants think it’s harmless fun, they are ignoring that the origins and the current reality of their behavior that is stigmatizing homosexuality, much in the same way Escobar’s eye black did.
According to sociologist D.A. Miller, “male heterosexuality is defined not only by the desire for women, but also (and more importantly) by the denial of desire for men.” In forcing players to wear feminine clothing, the rookies and the onlookers are forced to reconcile the threatening concept of femininity, while belittling the rookies (and gays) as not being real men. It’s intended as good-natured fun, but an unfortunate side effect is a condemnation of gay males and females alike. There is debate over the merit of things like burlesque shows and drag queens that allow prejudices to be perpetuated to often ridiculous extremes, and the hazing rituals follow suit. Not only does this feminization send a message of homophobia, it also objectives women in a way that perpetuates damaging stereotypes. The inherent tone of contempt and mocking simply should not be ignored, no matter how entertained the participants.
It’s the same principle of minstrelsy, in which white performers did comic skits and variety shows wearing blackface, perpetuating African American stereotypes as a means of entertainment, with blatant disregard for the larger social implications of their actions. While participants meant no harm and argued it was for entertainment, the undertones of hate and judgment were undeniably present. The social responsibility that Selig mentioned doesn’t mean just apologizing for bad behavior, it means doing better in the first place. The league can’t punish Escobar, then turn a blind eye to the behaviors in locker rooms and hazing rituals, because the message of homophobia is the same.
It’s not to say that hazing should be outlawed, but the focus should be less on sexuality as a means of asserting dominance. In the NFL, for instance, a player is much more likely to be initiated by having their head shaved or carrying excessive amounts of equipment for the veterans. The NFL veterans are more likely to turn the hose on their rookies during practice than force them into a dress, which seems like a much more suitable and less offensive rite of passage. In all hazing, the attitude that boys will be boys is too forgiving when players are violating their social responsibilities as public figures, no matter how temporary the departure.
MLB should take a stand about the treatment of turning rookies into sissies and the social implications of that message. These incidents raises questions of whether or not the league is doing enough to educate its’ players on sensitive social issues. Suspending Escobar at a time of the season when other players are being ritualistically feminized and degraded is not only hypocritical, it diminishes the progress they’ve made as nothing more than reactionary lip service, being nothing more than a policy that’s used for punishment. It’s time for Selig to stop “expecting” those who represent Major league Baseball to acknowledge social responsibilities and treat fans with the kind of dignity they deserve, but proactively insist that they do so.
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