As hazing and bullying continue to be significant issues in our society, professional sports, where such activity has often flourished, have started addressing it head on. This past offseason, Major League Baseball created an anti-hazing and anti-bullying policy that bans teams from "requiring, coercing or encouraging" activities such as "dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristic." Although such a stance is not only entirely appropriate but long overdue, it incredibly seems to have some teams like the Chicago Cubs struggling to figure out appropriate boundaries.
A recent ESPN article written by Jesse Rogers detailed the reaction of the Cubs to the new policy, because of their tradition of having rookies dress up in costumes that would now be considered off limits. Chicago manager Joe Maddon has come to rely on making his newer and younger players “uncomfortable” in what he believes to be an exercise that brings them deeper into the team fold. “The moment you get comfortable with your plight, then the threat is you’re not going to push yourself to the point where you need to again,” Maddon cryptically said.
Honestly, it’s really pathetic if that’s the best the Cubs can hit on to motivate their team and build camaraderie. In particular, with the number of children around the country subjected to bullying and hazing, it’s stupefying that the Cubs don’t see a connection between what they have traditionally done and the harassment and demeaning behavior suffered by so many. Any time those in a position of power use that influence to make others do something outside their comfort zone, that is the definition of bullying and not a dynamic motivational tool as some might have you believe.
Pitcher Rob Zastryzny, who was a rookie with Chicago last year and was made to dress up like a female cheer leader by the veterans on the team explained, “The Cubs guys did a really good job of it. I was a fan of it. It made me feel really close to the older guys.” That’s great that one player enjoyed it but what if some of their teammates went through the same exercise and didn’t feel the same way? I may not be an expert but it would seem that going out as a group to dinner, bowling or some other activity might serve a similar purpose. Just thinking outside of the box here.
The baseball dress-up culture is also strongly chauvinistic and homophobic, as costumes are often scanty cis-female clothing such as cheer leader outfits, skimpy dresses and other items meant to suggest lacking masculinity and/or heterosexuality in the wearer. For obvious reasons that don’t need to be elaborated on that is offensive on many levels and disappointing that the Cubs (or any other team) wouldn’t stop to think how that is perceived by fans and outsiders alike who claim similar identifies or simply have an ounce of respect or understanding in their bodies.
There are many out there who will lament that we live in “too PC of a world” and that we need to “toughen up” and not get bothered by such things. To them I ask they consider the following. Does that mean that when you go back to work next you’ll be fine if your supervisor forces you to wear an embarrassing costume around the workplace and out in public; knowing that if you don’t comply you will be on the outside looking in moving forward? Does that mean that if you have a child, friend or family member who identifies in a way that is frequently represented through MLB dress up that you are fine laughing at this “obvious joke” and don’t care how that child, friend or family member may feel about it?
Star pitcher Jake Arrieta tried to explain that what the Cubs have traditionally done is harmless. “No one is trying to offend any person or people that identify themselves as something else. It’s about making the younger teammates uncomfortable and seeing how they deal with the situation. It’s a team-building thing.” If only there were other ways to incorporate younger players into the team’s fold…
Ironically, the World Champion Cubs are also doing good work supporting the victims of bullying. However, I contend that you can’t condemn one form of bullying without condemning them all—especially given the many iterations it can take.
Showing how clueless some members of the Cubs are, Rogers reported that some alternative methods that will skirt the letter of the new law may include having the rookies wear Speedos or wrestling tights in 2017. One would think that a business like the Cubs that is valued at $2.2 billion could come up with more dynamic ways to motivate and team build. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case and the team is looking increasingly out of touch and foolish.
If baseball can change their rules on the field there’s no reason to think adjustments off the field are out of the question. It will just take a little awareness and thoughtfulness that realizes that professional athletes on a national stage exist on a stage that extends far beyond their locker rooms. Hopefully the Cubs organization will see how sophomoric and insulting the prevailing thoughts on the dress-up culture are and provide their players and coaching staff some tools that can help them come up with some positive alternatives.
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