Thursday, May 20, 2010

Softball Players to the Media: “We Are Not Lesbians, Damn It”

I don’t want to go back over the whole “Is Elena Kagan is a lesbian because she played softball 17 years ago” conversation, but I do want to note that the whole goofy discussion has, unfortunately as I feared, tapped in the homophobia that lurks just beneath the surface in women’s softball. All the media attention to the innuendoes about softball and lesbians has prompted some reporters to ask some women softball players and the president of the International Softball Federation to weigh in on the discussion. Here is what they said with my snarky commentary :

"We've come so far," said Jessica Mendoza, a two-time Olympian and president of the Women's Sports Foundation, "and to have even one person think that showing a photo would correlate with someone's orientation, I want to yell out and say, 'Where have you been? Look around.'"

We’ve come so far? What, from having everyone think softball players are dykes? And, oh the pain, the trauma of having even ONE PERSON think of someone’s “orientation” when they see a picture of a woman playing softball. C’mon, Jessica, can’t you even say the word “lesbian?” By the way, as President of the Women’s Sports Foundation, you should check out the resources for addressing homophobia in sport on your own organization’s web site.

Two-time Olympian Jennie Finch said, "It is shocking, that here we are in the 21st century and something like this is being brought up.”

“It’s shocking! Shocking, I say! To think that “this” (apparently Jennie can’t say the L-word either) is being brought up in the 21st Century! What, Jennie, that lesbians play softball? That the lesbian label is still being used to trivialize women’s accomplishments? That, despite your best efforts to heterosexualize softball with your soft porn photo shoots, hair ribbons and cute family photos with your husband and baby, people could still associate softball with lesbians? Oh, the tragedy! The heartbreak! Jennie, really, two of your Olympic teammates are out lesbian and bi –Lauren Lappin and Vicky Galindo. Please go talk to them. Get yourself together.

Former Olympic softball player, Stacey Nuveman says, “In the sporting community, having gay and lesbian players on teams is more accepted and a known entity than it once was," she said. "But it's still something that, in the general landscape of things, we have a long way to go."

Well, finally! A softball player who can say “lesbian!” I know she is trying by saying that “it is more accepted to have gay and lesbian on teams, but Stacey, Stacey Stacey, we were on the teams before you even thought of swinging a bat. I bet there were lesbian coaches and older players who helped teach you how to play softball. Accepted? Honey, you should celebrate the dykes who paved the way for you. And can’t you do better than calling them a “known entity?” For crying out loud, you make it sound like lesbians in softball are creepy weirdos and it is better to know who they are so you can protect yourself from them. I have no idea what you meant in your last sentence. Long way to go to what? I hope you don’t mean completely stifle any lesbian visibility in softball?

Finally, Don Porter, President of the International Softball Federation says, “"The media has chosen to try to put a label on athletes who play this sport. I've heard more about softball that way in one week than I did about our sport, period, in one year during the campaign to get softball back in the Olympics. While it's good to hear our sport mentioned in the major media during the past few days, it has been more in a negative sense than positive. "

Mr. Porter, with all due respect, the label has been on women athletes a long time and the more defensive we are about it, like your reaction, the more we buy into the homophobia that is behind the labeling. Mr. Porter, it would appear, is lesbian-challenged also. He has heard more about softball “THAT WAY” as in “Is she that way?” as opposed to the heterosexual way, of course. Why can’t people just say it – L-E-S-B-I-A-N. There, that’s not so difficult is it? Don is just so sad that all this major media attention is soooooo negative! You get the media to talk about your sport and it’s all about those damn lesbians.

Wow! Talk about being thrown under the team bus. With friends like these, the dyke softball mafia might need to rethink the decision to let straight girls and boys into women’s softball.

Seriously, though, at the very least, these folks need some serious media training on how to respond to media questions about homophobia and lesbians in sport without sounding like defensive, uncomfortable, homophobic twits. I long for the day when straight women athletes, male coaches of women’s teams and male leaders of women’s sports organizations can respond to these questions in a straight forward and open way that acknowledges that women softball players are straight, gay, bi and questioning. They come in all sizes and shapes and that all of them are valued members of the team.

Why can’t softball spokespeople talk intelligently about homophobia in softball (or any other women’s sport) and its negative effects on all women athletes instead of implying that it’s those lesbians and their stupid stereotypes who have the negative effect on softball? I guess what I am asking is, why can’t they talk about homophobia in sport instead of exemplifying it?


Anonymous said...

I have trouble faulting women -- even heterosexual women -- that I know respect and care for their lesbian teammates as longtime friends, for not knowing exactly what to say publicly about a traditionally polarizing issue. The overarching message as I read it, in the quotes you've chosen from Mendoza, Finch, Nuveman and Porter, is that we have come to a point in time when sexual choices shouldn't an issue, period. Not on the field. Not as one is vetted for a job. Not at all. It's who we are as people that matters. Ms. Griffin, you encourage everyone involved in women's sports to acknowledge that players are straight, gay, bi and questioning, yet you deride Finch in particular for being exactly who she is as a heterosexual woman. You unfairly cast her as a someone choosing to define herself by alterity to a lesbian stereotype. Would you consider the idea that we simply need to be supportive of each other as women?

cvitosky said...

Pat, I mean yes... But if we "heteros" actually did (and I think many non-elite athletes do) speak intelligently about sexuality in a public forum we'd also be labeled closet lesbians by people like Murdoch. Cause he's really good at making people run in circles. So, I mean I guess maybe give Jennie some slack even though she needs some serious help if she wants to keep friends. But someday, someday. I see your dream.

Doesn't some of that also go back to coaches' decisions to address issues "unrelated" to the game? I can't remember ever having any discussions about anything not directly related to my sports with my coach. So, I guess I'm wondering how much this has to do with coaches needing to discuss sexuality and how much it relates to coaches needing more training/ways to talk to their athletes in general.

Pat Griffin said...

Thanks for your comments. I knew I ran the risk of seeming "harsh" when I wrote this blog, but I do think that, if heterosexual women athletes truly want to be allies to their lesbian teammates and are serious about confronting lesbian sport stereotypes, then they need to educate themselves and be more thoughtful in their responses. I actually believe they were trying to be supportive, but they really need to be better prepared if they want to be effective.

Anonymous said...

I loved the writing Pat and I get that some may find it harsh... It is hard when homophobia impacts somebody's statements and they are not even aware of it. I would invite those women to start with the assumption that they come from a place of believing that being a lesbian is as normal and wonderful as being an athlete. Let that guide your words ladies. AND if that feels uncomfortable at all, then voila, you have just tuned into you're own homophobia.. (which we ALL have). You have to start with some awareness of your own homophobia or you're lost, (that goes for all of us). Thanks for the post!

EC said...

Thanks to Pat for telling it like it is.

Anonymous said...

I Stumbled across your blog as I watch the NCAA World Series. As a 64 year old lesbian who spent many years as a top collegiate and ASA athlete and coach, I am conflicted by the apparent attempt to disguise softball players. Where are all the good lesbian softball players who refuse to apply eye makeup until they look like a racoon with a pony tail and ribbon? It is apparent that coaches in the Pac 10 and SEC are recruiting players not only on their ability, but their ability to "pass." Don't get me wrong. I think it is great that we've evolved to make it acceptable for straight girls to play sports. But I think there is some discrimination going on in recruiting and mentoring.

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... writes a lesbian named 'Pat'.

And this is to debunk a stereotype? It doesn't get any better than that.

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