Early this week, Major League Baseball announced that it would be banning the hazing rituals involving players dressing up as women. The new policy, titled the Anti-Hazing and Anti-Bullying Policy, outlaws the practice, which is common in clubhouses as a rite of passage for rookie players.
The policy, which was obtained by The Associated Press, prohibits “requiring, coercing or encouraging” players from “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.” In the past, players have been asked to dress up as Wonder Women, cheerleaders, gymnasts — complete with leotards — and characters from A League of Their Own.
Let’s be clear: This new policy is a very good thing. Sports culture is known for being misogynistic, and this practice is an obvious indication of that. And the reaction from players expressing their disappointment is a testament to the sexism of many athletes. Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo said he was “sad to see [the costumes] go,” while Mets starting ace Noah Syndergaard said he didn’t understand the ban. Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling tweeted that we was “proud” to have worn a cheerleading costume, and former player Kevin Youkilis expressed his disdain for the policy in a now-deleted tweet.
Dressing men in women’s clothing as a way of hazing or embarrassing them is unequivocally sexist. It implies that wearing feminine clothing is something one should be embarrassed about (a belief reinforced by comments from within the MLB, like Blue Jays manager John Gibbons saying a new slide rule was so “embarrassing” and such “a joke” that his team might as well play in dresses). The practice is also transphobic, implying that “men in dresses” are laughable, or should be mocked. This kind of attitude contributes to real, lived violence against trans women, as well as dangerous legislation like “bathroom bills” that also contribute to the staggering rates of violence they face. These attitudes dehumanize all women, and allow violence against us to persist by making us less-than-human in the eyes of society.
And for a league that is grappling with how to handle domestic and sexual violence committed by its players, including releasing a new domestic violence policy last season and seeing the high-profile suspensions of Aroldis Chapman and Jose Reyes under it, changing the locker room culture is a significant step. If we want to address the issue of violence against women perpetrated by athletes, we need to start with cultural changes — and this includes sending the message that women should not be mocked and that femininity is not inferior. Moreover, by instituting these changes at the highest levels of the sport, it can hopefully trickle down to men and boys everywhere. When their heroes demonstrate respect for women, it makes it more acceptable for men at-large to do the same.
That said, based on the league’s own anti-bullying policy, it would seem another tradition should go out the window, as well: the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, Chief Wahoo. There has been a lot of pressure on the Cleveland team, as well as Commissioner Rob Manfred, to ban Chief Wahoo. Wahoo is offensive, a caricature of Native people. And the MLB’s new policy says that requiring players to wear costumes that “may be offensive to individuals based on their race” is now prohibited. Wahoo, while a logo and not a full costume, is still just that: offensive.
Native activists have been protesting the logo for years, and objections to the logo have reached a fever pitch in recent years with the #NotYourMascot campaign gaining traction on social media. And, like dressing men up as women to demean them, Native mascots also dehumanize their subjects; research has shown that the effects of Native mascots on Native people are real — and deeply damaging (activists have also rightfully criticized the Atlanta Braves, the NFL’s Washington R*dskins, and school teams with Native mascots). Researchers concluded that “mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.”
This is all compounded by the fact that violence against Indigenous people is devastatingly common. In fact, we watched the U.S. government violently attack peaceful water protectors who were trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Reservation just last month. There were dozens of injuries as a result. Further, Native women face some of the highest rates of domestic and sexual violence in the nation.
It looked as though steps were being taken in the right direction at the beginning of last season, when Cleveland owner Larry Dolan announced that Wahoo was being demoted to “secondary logo” status. Many hoped this was the beginning of a process to phase out Wahoo completely — but Dolan dismissed that, telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “[The team has] no plans to get rid of Chief Wahoo. It is part of our history and legacy.” (Apparently, the fact that violence and genocide against Native people is also part of our country’s history and legacy matters less to Dolan). And while an entire team rebrand might be more expensive than banning gendered hazing, a fresh start might be just what the American League champions need — and we all know the league can certainly afford it.
“We are the sport of Jackie Robinson, and we need to lead by example,” Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s ambassador for inclusion, told the New York Times in regards to the decision to ban the practice of players dressing as women as part of hazing rituals. But in order for that statement to be true, MLB needs to address Chief Wahoo, as well.
Manfred has said that the league will discuss the issue in the off-season. Here’s hoping they come to the right conclusion.