Friday, September 2, 2011

Hazing In Pro Baseball: Wear The Pink Schoolgirl Backpack. Why don't we just call it: "Major League Baseball Teaches Kids How To Bully"

The Phillies' Michael Schwimer

So there's this article this week in the New York Times, "Humility By The Pack" about this new hazing ritual going on in baseball - making the rookie relief pitcher wear a "girly" backpack while they walk across the field to the bullpen.

“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.”

The Phillies added a pink boa to their Rookie's bag:

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.”
and there's a they-did-it-to-me-so-I'll-do-it-to-the-next-guy thing going on:

Last month, for instance, Stutes was able to rid himself of the Hello Kitty and boa ensemble when the Phillies called up Michael Schwimer, 25, a 6-foot-8 right-hander.

“He was very happy to hand it over to me,” Schwimer said. “I’ll just wear it with pride.”

It's nice that Schwimer (and some of the other relief pitchers) have a good attitude about this and laugh it off. And there are a bunch of non-pink backpacks used by other teams for the same hazing purposes, Yoda and Cookie Monster among them. But the general pink-as-punishment tone of the practice, and the article, reveal some really disturbing messaging in our culture and in the sport of baseball:

Namely, that being seen wearing (and possibly liking) a pink / girly / frilly item, as a man, makes you LESS of a man, and LESS of an athlete to be reckoned with.

That having to wear something pink and girly and frilly, as a man, should humiliate you.

That liking pink, or being effeminate, is bad.

That being like a girl is bad.

I hear it all the time in high schools, that it's harder to be an effeminate straight boy than a macho gay boy.

What's going on in Major League Baseball with this 'pink' hazing is dangerous territory. It's misogynistic and sets children up for the lock-step of "boys can't like pink." It reinforces the stereotypes about which gender is allowed to do what, and is toxic.

And while Trevor Hoffman, baseball’s career leader in saves, may think the bags are harmless,
“I think it’s amusing for the fans to see. It’s kind of a way of pointing out who’s the low man on the totem pole.”
this feeds a culture of hate.

This feeds our culture, where Jaheem Herrera, who was 11 years old, got taunted as 'gay' for carrying a pink backpack to his Dunaire Elementary School in Georgia.

After months of anti-gay taunts and violence, Jaheem killed himself in 2009.

So while it's nice to see the Phillies doing an It Gets Better Video,

You gotta wonder what Mike Stutes was thinking about while he read his lines in the video, having been made to wear the most stereotypically girly backpack/boa combination this season, and then passing that same getup along to the next rookie.

Right now, Major League Baseball is teaching bullying.

Putting aside the issue of why professional sports players are trying to humiliate their own team members (sportsmanship, anyone?), there is something the Phillies (and the rest of the teams engaged in this 'pink' hazing) can do right now to help make things better:

uncouple their rookie relief pitcher hazing from the message that pink is girly is bad.

What about it, Phillies?


Book Dragon said...


"harder to be an effeminate straight boy than a macho gay boy" after all HE doesn't ACT gay


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Joanna wrote (over on facebook)

I couldn't get onto the comments to post on your blog, but I understand yesterday's reaction. It's difficult to comprehend how people could find such humiliation amusing and acceptable and not understand the destructive message it gives to so many young supporters. Glad you wrote to the editor too.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Frances wrote (also over at facebook)

Lee, I couldn't post a comment on your blog either. But I wanted to say that I think you're absolutely right in terms of the connections you're drawing here. Your title says it perfectly. These athletes are teaching children WHO to bully...

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Not to mention the tired old stereotype that pink = girl and girl = inferior.

JLane said...

Very bad move, Phillies. Our SF Giants are so above this.

During the playoffs last year, Giants ace pitcher Tim Lincecum got whistled at because of his long hair. Some of these teams need to get out of their 50s attitude.

Avi de Turenne said...

Funny how I had to explain the girly backpack hazing to my husband at Dodger stadium (it was the Rockies). Sports remains one of the true bastions of homophobia --- I think because of the homoeroticism that goes on with players and would be considered "pure" if it wasn't for that damn "gay" thing. By the way, openly gay retired baseball player Billy Bean wrote GOING THE OTHER WAY and lets us know there's at least one gay player on every MLB team... just all in the closet.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

My friend Karol wrote a heartfelt and funny response to this post that was published in the Philadelphia Daily News:

She'd originally titled it: "In Defense of my Phillies - Pink Backpack Notwithstanding."

Namaste, Lee

Gil said...

Professional sports have mores and values that may or may not mirror societal norms - increasingly professional sports exist in their own little world. The use of pink backpacks is meant to integrate a new member into the team - not to teach that bullying is right and that pink isn't manly. Not saying that it is right, but that is the purpose and within the confines of that purpose it is an effective but childish and highly obnoxious team building method. Personally, my point of view is that they should not allow players to haze rookies in this fashion.

While I agree that they should not do it publicly because of the message it potentially sends, it is hardly fair or accurate to make such a blanket statement such as "MLB teaches kids how to bully" because of it.

Ultimately I agree in principle, yet argue in favor of professional sports teams being free to create their own policies around this issue despite that as a long-haired teenager and young adult playing varsity and then semi-pro baseball I experienced (as a straight man) humiliating homophobic experiences – those experiences were educational during formative periods and helped shape a better understanding of the realities of our world. With that said, such behaviors should be kept strictly within the team clubhouse and not ever in the public eye.

In our society, even the mere possibility of interpreting such behavior as anti-gay is more than enough to support discontinuing this practice.

Gil said...

What truly is the issue being discussed? Sending the wrong message or that homophobia in professional sports is wrong and must be punished and eradicated to create a better world? Homophobia certainly exists in professional sports - kind of makes sense considering the nature of what goes on in the clubhouse. I'm just saying it - not endorsing it.

Think about it - could a straight man be comfortable changing his clothes, for example, in a clubhouse full of gay men or as the only man in a room full of women. We're talking about young men who spend more than six months in close quarters for much of that time, and considerable amounts of time are spent naked or barely dressed.

The point I am driving towards is that it is understandable how a bunch of young men - many of whom hail from Latin America countries in which hombophobia is more widely prevalent and machismo acceptable and even valued at all levels of society - would come up with an idea as silly as making rookies wear pink backpacks.

If they made them eat a dozen goldfish would someone come forward and say MLB is teaching kids how to hate fish? The practice is stupid but without malice towards homosexual men, and its intent is to integrate a new teammate into the team. You may not agree with it, but it has been around for quite some time - the pink issue may be a new approach to something that has long existed in clubhouse culture and rarely if ever questioned because to baseball teams, the ends are felt to justify the means. Not agreeing – just pointing out the obvious and questioning whether there truly is an issue other than perhaps requiring that rookie hazing being conducted behind closed doors as a rule.

For a minimum salary of more than 400K, I would do anything – the same as those rookies who stand to become multi-millionaires if they can deal with what is ultimately a little bit of humiliation that surely will not impact their ability to wear pink polo shirts in future.

This falls under the category of "you know the culture, and knew what you are getting into before signing a contract. Does anyone think that any ballplayer doesn't accept these realities before deciding to attempt a career as a professional athlete? Tim Lincecum may get whistled at by players trying to psych him out, but he is a multi-million dollar a year player with a huge fan base who couldn't care less about the length of his hair. In fact he has appeared to deliberately cultivate his image for the same reason that other players whistle at him – to try to distract the other team’s batters and therefore fail to make solid contact.