By Ken Reed

It’s commonly accepted in this country that baseball is for boys and softball is for girls. But most of us never stop to question why that is or why it needs to stay that way.
Emma Span, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated, has written a provocative essay for The New York Times that asks those very questions.

“The conventional wisdom is that baseball is for boys and men, and softball is for girls and women,” writes Span. “But women have been playing baseball since long before they had the right to vote.”

Indeed they have. History shows that women were playing baseball as far back as the 1830’s. Females have played baseball on barnstorming teams, various amateur teams and at colleges. And, of course, during World War II, women’s baseball became commonplace, as depicted in the movie A League of Their Own.

“The flimsiness of arguments against women’s participation was on display in the desperate legal efforts of Little League to bar girls after a string of lawsuits in 1973,” writes Span.

“Officials claimed that baseball was ‘a contact sport’; that boys would quit if girls were allowed; that girls’ bones were weaker than boys’; that facial injuries could ruin a girl’s looks and therefore prospects in life; and, most outlandishly, that girls struck in the chest by a ball might later develop breast cancer. One Little League vice president expressed his concern that coaches would not be able to ‘pat girls on the rear end the way they naturally do to boys.'”

Fortunately, thanks to lawsuits brought by girls and their moms and dads, girls now have the legal right to play Little League ball, and under Title IX, to play baseball on a school-organized boys team if a girls baseball team is unavailable (softball doesn’t count as a valid legal alternative). In reality, however, schools and school districts often tell girls that they have to play with a softball instead of a hardball if they want to play a diamond sport. Moreover, despite their legal victories girls still face a ton of social pressure to play softball and leave baseball to the boys.

“A woman may take part in the grandstand with applause for the brilliant play, with waving kerchief to the hero,” wrote A.G. Spalding, the co-founder of Spalding Sporting Goods, in his book “America’s National Game,” published in 1911.

If the only reason baseball is too often reserved for males only is because of a sexist proclamation by Spalding and/or the sexist arguments of Little League Baseball, then this unjust tradition needs to end.

There’s nothing wrong with competitive fastpitch softball. It’s a great game. But if girls and women want to play baseball, we, as a society, should do all we can to make it easier for them.
As Span concludes, “There is no rational basis to claim that girls can’t throw overhand, run 90 feet between bases or handle a hardball. And there is no reason but sexism to prevent them from doing so.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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