Baseball is my favorite sport.
It always has been. It’s a beautiful game full of strategy, one that requires patience. It’s not slow — it’s deliberate — and there’s nothing better than hearing the crack of the bat or seeing a flash of leather on a hot summer day. Baseball is what taught me to love sports.
But it’s also baseball that has shown me, over and over again, that there is no place for me there. I should be specific here: it’s men’s baseball that has continued to show me that. Women can — and do — play baseball, even if the world doesn’t give them the credit or the attention they deserve, and I relish the days I can watch low-quality YouTube streams of the Women’s Baseball World Cup (because god forbid ESPN forgo a cornhole competition to watch the U.S. Women’s National Baseball Team compete on the international stage). It reminds me what I love about the sport.
But Major League Baseball? Minor League Baseball? No, men’s professional baseball has made it clear I’m not welcome there. As a survivor of domestic violence, a woman, a queer person, and someone who believes in basic human rights for all people, men in the most “traditional” sport have shown, time and again, that their sport is not for people like me.
This week alone produced two incidents that really hammered that home.
Monday night, Fernando Tatis, Jr. hit a grand slam in the 8th inning on a 3-0 count, putting the Padres up 14-3 in their rout of the Rangers. Tatis, Jr. is a shining star, the son of an MLBer, and the future of the sport. He hit a grand slam, and aren’t those fun to watch?
Well, no, not when baseball is full of unwritten rules that include not swinging on a 3-0 pitch when your team is up by so much late in a game, you know, out of respect for your opponents. You wouldn’t want to embarrass them too much, would you, in a competitive sport? What resulted was retaliation from the Rangers and dragging of Tatis, Jr. all over MLB, including his manager throwing him under the bus. The overwhelmingly old, white, male commentators trashed him.
Because god forbid a young player of color come into the sport known as a white man’s game, the one that prides itself on being traditional, and dare to have fun. “Tatis was audacious enough to unleash his gorgeous swing even when he didn’t need to,” Bradford William Davis wrote at the New York Post. “Drawing a walk with the bases loaded would have padded the score while reducing him to a statistic. The Padres might have won but everyone else loses.”
Then, on Wednesday night, Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic verryyyy casually using a homophobic slur. The context for the word is unclear but what is very clear is that Brennaman said the words, “one of the f*g capitals of the world.”
He later apologized, insisting that “is not who I am” and has since been suspended from his job.
I wasn’t even mad. I was just so, so sad. I’m so tired. I’m tired of loving something that doesn’t want to love me back. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that there’s no real effort to challenge the toxicity of white, cishet male culture that has always dominated the sport. They could if they wanted to. They choose not to.
The thing is, that’s exactly who Brennaman is. We heard him. He said it. He may not think of himself as someone who hates gay people, but he used a homophobic slur. And he felt comfortable enough to use it in the room he was in — knowing he couldn’t say it on-air, so part of him knew it wasn’t an acceptable word — he knew he was among people who would laugh along with him or, at the very least, not challenge him on his bigotry.
Men and boys still sling “f*g” at each other as a playground insult, as a way to diminish another man’s masculinity. People in my life still use “gay” to describe something uncool. The slurs are still so casually flung around that many people don’t even know the hurt that word causes, that the word is still thrown at queer men while they are being beaten or taunted for being gay.
As a result, the media has inconsistently covered the incident when it comes to how they print Brennaman’s quote. ESPN reporters tweeted out the full slur, headlines ran it, others chose to censor it or avoid it altogether. The word is still socially acceptable in a way many other slurs are not; that means that many people don’t realize the severity of it and media lacks a cohesive way to respond to it.
For every queer fan watching at home, that word was a punch in their guts, a reminder that they are intruding on a world that does not want them there, that thinks less of people like them. For every queer fan who had to read coverage of the incident with that slur staring them right in the face, they were reminded that the people covering the sport still don’t realize the harm that word causes them. For every closeted queer player in the locker room, it was proof as to why it’s still not safe to come out.
I love baseball. It is the perfect sport. It is the men who play it that have ruined it, like they do everything else. For now, I can’t bring myself to watch a bunch of men who probably see me and others as less than human when there are so many others who see the humanity of myself and my community.
So baseball, this is a goodbye that I really hope is a “see you later,” but you’ll have to earn it.