Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Little Reminder About What It’s All About

This post doesn’t have anything to do with LGBT issues in sport and it has everything to do with LGBT issues in sport. Last week in a conference softball game between Central Washington and Eastern Oregon that determined which team would move forward to the post-season, a 5’2” senior on the Oregon team, Sara Tucholsky,came to the plate. Hecklers in the stands went to work on Sara as she dug in to the batter’s box. The diminutive Sara, like a female Dustin Pedroia, took a big swing and hit the first home run of her collegiate career that would her team the lead. As she rounded first base, Sara stumbled and fell in agony with what turned out to be the dreaded ACL injury.

In an extraordinary act of compassion, sportswomanship, empathy, selflessness – call it what you will – Mallory Holtman, a senior on the Central Washington team, offered that she and teammate Liz Wallace could carry Sara around the bases, and make sure her uninjured foot touched each base so that the home run and the RBIs that went with it would stand. So, they did it as the fans on both teams cheered.

I have to tell you when I saw the report of this incident on TV last night, I got all teary-eyed. I am kind of sap anyway, truth be told, but something about Mallory Holtman’s offer and the sight of her and Liz carrying Sara around the bases just got to me on some fundamental level. I am tearing up again now writing about it.

I spend so much time writing about and fighting against outrageous acts of bigotry, selfishness, ignorance and stupidity in sport by fans, coaches, athletes, athletic administrators. Even those amazing moments when I am working with a group of coaches or athletes and they are engaged and I feel their intention and commitment to sports equality for all women and men do not affect me the way this story did.

No one would have criticized Mallory Holtman if she had not offered to carry Sara Tucholsky around the bases. Breaks of the game, right? We win. You lose. Sorry about your knee. I’m not sure I would have offered to carry Sara around the bases had I been in Mallory’s spikes. Post-season play was at stake. It was her senior year. A chance to play another game. Wear that uniform one more time. Maybe more.

Maybe that’s it. Her offer so countered what we expect in sport these days. Her offer was so spontaneous, so natural. She was surprised later by all the fuss over it. She just thought it was the right thing to do and she did it.

It reminds me of playing in the Mary V. Softball league here in Northampton, MA. A league dedicated to “feminist” softball played by mostly lesbians. Despite the score of the game, everyone on our team got equal playing time regardless of skill or experience. I believed in this ethic with all my heart, but I have to tell you sometimes when the game was on the line, I cringed with regret when I saw a fly ball heading toward a teammate who I knew from experience was as likely to duck it as catch it. One day this happened. Bottom of the seventh, we are in the field, two outs, two runners on, we are ahead by one run. The ball was hit to right field. Our rightfielder stumbled hesitantly, but gamely under the ball, I held my breath as the base runners whizzed past me on third base heading for home. She stuck her glove out…and caught the ball. Third out. Game over. We win. The look of surprise and accomplishment on my teammate’s face when she turned the glove around and saw that ball nestled in the pocket was priceless. I felt a little ashamed that my desire to win the game, at least for that moment of regret, was stronger than my commitment to her opportunity to go for it, to have the chance to succeed (or fail). Seeing the joy in her eyes and that wide smile of accomplishment was one of those pure moments in sport like the one that happened on that softball field on the west coast last week. We need those little reminders every now and then. I do anyway.


EBuz said...

Hooray for feminist softball! After reading this post, I'm even more excited for the upcoming season.

Anonymous said...

This story brought tears to my eyes too. So you're not the only sap. I'm a lot like your feminist softball rightfielder. Only I never had the winning the game moment. Dropped enough balls I finally quit the game. Maybe we need some feminist softball in Salt Lake City. I might even sign up.