by Dan Savage
on Fri, Sep 2, 2011 at 4:03 PM
I didn't say anything about this story in yesterday's NYT because it's really not that important and I didn't want to leap on it and look like a scold or a killjoy or a GLAAD and, again, it's really not that big a deal. But with so many MLB teams making It Gets Better videos... I kindasorta feel kindasorta obligated to kindasorta say something about this:
In this tradition-bound sport, in which managers wear the same uniforms as the players and Cracker Jack can still be bought at concession stands, a hazing ritual that has gone on for years seems to have reached a new level of absurdity at major league ballparks: rookie relievers are being forced to wear schoolgirl backpacks—gaudy in color, utterly unmanly—to transport gear. “Everybody laughs at me,” said Bryan Shaw, a 23-year-old rookie reliever for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Before each game, he makes the long, painful walk to the bullpen toting a pink bag adorned with an image of a white unicorn. “They all yell, ‘Cute bag!’ ” he said.... “It’s just one more way to get at your rookie,” said Mets pitcher Tim Byrdak, 37. “You have to walk all the way across the field to get to the bullpen, so you make the rookie carry this pink bag, and you can kind of humiliate him.”
For much of this season, Michael Stutes of the Philadelphia Phillies was forced to wear a Hello Kitty backpack and a pink feather boa purchased by Brad Lidge, a 10-year veteran, during a road trip to San Francisco. “I thought it wasn’t right for Stutes to be carrying a plain black bag,” Lidge said. “I was in Macy’s shopping for my kids. I just knew we wanted something pink.”
The rookie is humiliated by being forced to carry a girl's bag—you know, a pink bag, like he's a big sissy or something.
Professional baseball players are grown men and one of the perks of being all grow'd up—one of the ways, sigh, it gets better—is that we become more secure in our sexualities and more comfortable with our identities. As adults we're able to laugh at jokes and putdowns that would've traumatized us in our teens. The same jokes that stung in middle or high school lose their power to wound us. And a single joke—even if it lands wrong and pisses you off—doesn't have the power to define or destroy you once you're an adult.
The problem with this kind of highly visible hazing and the laughs it generates—laughs that are, if you'll pardon me for being a totally cunty about it, informed by misogyny and her little sister homophobia—is that what happens in MLB ballparks doesn't stay in MLB ballparks. Student athletes look up to and emulate professional athletes.
Yeah, yeah: I'm playing the role model card. But when pink backbacks and feather boas trickle down to Little League and high school teams, as they inevitably will (if they haven't already), boys who have yet develop the ability to laugh this kind of teasing off—boys who aren't as secure in their sexualities and masculinities as these professional athletes are—will be subjected to the same humiliating treatment. For boys who are still going through puberty, for boys who are still developing a sense of what it means to be a man, for boys who have yet to realize that they get to define manhood for themselves, being called a girl or a fag can be devastating. And while it may be rookie relievers who come in for this playful teasing in the major leagues, on high school and Little League teams it's going to be those boys who are already under suspicion for being queer—boys who are perceived to be sissies—who are going to be abused.
So, MLB, we appreciate the IGB videos. They're helpful. But the pink backpacks and the hazing and the laughs and the misogyny and homophobia and the feather boas?