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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
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Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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