by Rev. Leigh Goodrich
The score was a close 3-2 at the top of the ninth inning. The Tampa Bay Rays were leading. With one out and bases loaded, Blue Jays batter Edwin Encarnación hit a ground ball to third. The ball was sent to the second baseman to force an out on a potential double play. But not before the runner, José Bautista, slid not into the base, but intentionally into the second baseman. The second baseman added. “When I first saw him coming in, I thought he was going over the bag, but then I didn’t know if he kicked his foot out to try and catch a back foot. He kind of swung me around a little bit, the throw went a little left.”
Bautista’s play was overruled based on a brand new rule in baseball. “The Chase Utley” rule was developed during the off-season to avoid injuries when slides into second are made on double plays. More specifically, when a runner intentionally slides into the second baseman instead of onto the bag, there is potential for serious injuries. That is exactly what happened during the 2015 playoffs when Los Angeles Dodgers player Chase Utley seriously broke the leg of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. Utley did not aim for the base but directly at Tejada to break up a potential double play. Similarly, Toronto Blue Jay José Bautista, was attempting the same strategy.
In the end, Toronto lost the game, 3-2.
Frankly, everything I know about baseball I learned from my father and son. To me, it sounds like the runner was trying to do something dangerous and unfair. However, to make matters worse, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons let his sexism fly when he commented that major league players “might as well wear dresses.” After refusing to apologize, he defended his comments by saying his mom, wife and daughter all found his remarks “kind of funny.”
Truly, this behavior is wrong on so many levels. A leader should promote a degree of fair play and a desire to follow the rules. That person should also know enough about the history of their sport to understand that playing in dresses, which women did at one point, is particularly tough business. A leader should not pander in sexist comments. Further, a leader should never be a poor loser. So, John Gibbons is not a good leader. Point made.
But what about the women: mom, wife and daughter?
Gibbons said that his comments don’t “offend my mother, my daughter, my wife…” Is it that these remarks don’t bother them, or is it that they, along with so many other women, have heard these types of comments so often and for so long that they simply don’t know what to say when they are raised?
In so many cases, women stop challenging sexism in their homes because they no longer know what to say. There is no opportunity to have a rational conversation about the way expressions are used, their intent, or the harm words cause. They are tired of the arguments and belittling. Think of your own response when someone you care about drops a comment that is sexually or racially charged. What do you say? Do you say anything?
When we hear blatant sexism or racism, it usually surprises us, so we should plan ahead about how to respond when it happens. A simple “Wow,” or “Really?” can cue the culprit that they are off-base. It might even prompt an apology from a particularly sensitive person. If not, consider starting with a clarifying question. “Exactly what did you mean when you said that?” You might try the presumption that the person did not mean to say something harmful, and that the comment is below the high regard you have for the offender. “Did you really mean what you said?” “That doesn’t sound at all like you.” These responses let people know you have found their statement disturbing, and also allow them to feel a level of respect from you.
Still, there are some people, like John Gibbons, who will tell you to “lighten up,” and “it was meant as a little humor.” When that happens, we have to be more direct. Statements like these may help: “It is not a light thing to demean and belittle other human beings.” “True humor does not come at the expense of another gender (or race, for that matter).”
Remember, this is a time for clear communication and an honest message. Be sure your nonverbal communication reflects your spoken word. This is not a time for hanging your head in submission or a coquettish smile. This is an opportunity to right a wrong. If you must use a facial expression, disbelief is the best approach.
Whether someone breaks the rules of a baseball game by sliding off-base, or breaks the rules of civility by speaking off-base, it is dangerous to the other players, sometimes an entire gender or race, and we need to call them on it. That is the reason there are rules in baseball and rules of civil discourse: to keep us safe and encourage all of us participate equally.
For more information about responding to sexist language, go to stopsexistremarks.org for ideas about ways and words you can use to respond to sexism in your home, work or community.
Leigh Goodrich is Sr. Dir. Of Leadership and Education, and the newest member of the GCSRW team. She is a second-career clergyperson from the New England Annual Conference, and frequent blogger for GCSRW. You can read more about her here or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.