Several days ago now, I received an email from a reader, asking me a question. The question in question, as it were, went something like this:
“Has VEB ever discussed the Cards’ air-titty-grabbing double-celebrating gesture over the past couple years? It just seems kinda....eesh.”
Now, I didn’t respond immediately to the email. In fact, truth be told, I still haven’t responded, and will probably just wait and send along a note after I’m done with this column. Hopefully the reader will not mind my quoting his question; I’ll withhold his name out of respect to his privacy.
And here’s the thing: I honestly don’t know how to respond. I mean, I kind of do know how to respond; the truth is, so far as I know, the breast-grabbing gesture has not been the source of a ton of debate here, at least not in terms of front page content. I’m sure it’s come up in the comments section here and there, and probably quite a lot in the game threads, considering it’s during games that the guys sliding into second base throw up the gesture of teen boys celebrating their first time at second base.
But what I mean is, I don’t really know how to respond. I understand why someone would ask the question, and I have a sneaking suspicion the email was sent to me specifically (although it may have gone to other editors as well; I didn’t ask), because I am the writer here most likely to jump into the cold, deep waters of various social justice causes, often flaunting the community guidelines fairly brazenly in the process. Is that because I have a stronger social conscience than the other writers here on the site? No, almost certainly not. It is, in all likelihood, because I’m the one here who just really kind of doesn’t give a fuck at this point.
I get pushback and complaints when I wander over the line; those complaints are duly noted, filed, and then forgotten about in relatively short order. No offense, anyone who complains. I’ve been writing for this site for ten years, and it’s been a good run. I got five years of a pretty decent-paying RFT column out of the deal, but that dried up when our parent company cracked down on sports coverage and I couldn’t come up with any sort of angle I could agree on with one particular editor. I still value this site and the community, certainly, and I would miss the draft coverage and the wistful season wraps if I stopped doing it. But, I’m under no illusions this is going to get me anywhere in the world.
So when the question of whether the air-groping has been written about is asked, what’s really implied there is the question, “Hey, have you talked about this? And if not, why the eff not?”
And why not? Gliding into second base on television, viewed by a couple million viewers on any given night, and then proceeding to mime groping a pair of breasts, seems like kind of a gross thing. Maybe someone should say something about it. Probably someone should, really.
But then again, we’re talking about athletics here, and there is a level of expectation as to the behaviour we’ll see. These are dumb jock bros doing a dumb jock bro thing, and to really expect they would think of this as anything other than a fun locker room version of a secret handshake or greeting smacks a bit of tilting at windmills. I can moralise and complain about Cards players feeling up imaginary women on the basepaths, but it’s hard to work up a huge level of outrage for something so sophomoric. I remember playing on my high school team, and how many jokes were bandied back and forth about the various bases and which one of us had been to those bases with which girls in our class. Not a particularly proud moment looking back, but being a teenage boy is not usually a proud occupation. And in the arrested development world of professional athletics, invisible breast-groping is pretty tame. At least none of the players have yet decided that a triple should warrant a pantomimed ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ or a homer call for some sort of playacted money shot. See? Things could be worse.
So all in all, when I received the email question about the gesture, I was planning on eventually responding with some variation of, “No, I don’t think anyone has, and there is always some pushback when I go down the social justice warrior road, so I probably won’t. I doubt it would change anything anyway....” and then throw in something about tilting at windmills, which I already said, but was totally going to include because I like saying things that I think make me sound smart. That’s right; I took freshman English.
But then a thing happened yesterday, and I changed my mind. The thing that happened was simple. The Cardinals’ official Twitter account tweeted out a tweet. That’s a thing that happens multiple times a day, every day. It’s kind of the point of Twitter accounts, in fact.
However, this particular tweet was...ill-considered.
Now, admittedly, that’s not the worst thing in the world. I mean, I grew up on a steady diet of Married With Children, and that’s positively tame compared to what I was gobbling up as a ten year old.
Still, that’s a fairly insulting thing to say. Sure, it’s a just-us-bros sort of joke: “Women, am I right? I mean, my old lady never wants to go to the games, and when I do take her she just roots for the team with the prettiest uniforms! Hey, maybe if she thinks that ring giveaway is for her she won’t bust my balls too much about going! Dames sure do like jewelry!”
(Yes, admittedly, my male stereotype dialogue is based on the characters from Taxi. I’m not the most socially polished observer.)
But it’s not the fact that it’s a joke about women liking jewelry that’s insulting. This is the Cardinals’ official Twitter feed, and the people who read the official Twitter feed of a major league baseball team are, more likely than not, doing so because they are huge fans of the major league team in question. As in, probably paying customers.
So, you know, maybe don’t insult a chunk of your customer base, yeah? Maybe don’t suggest that the only reason a girl would come to, of all things, a baseball game, would be to get a piece of jewelry.
Now, yes. I get that it was a joke. Obviously, World Series replica rings are not the sort of jewelry a woman is actually going to like. I once purchased a ticket and stood in line to get a 2011 replica ring for a woman, but that was because she wanted a 2011 replica ring, not because she wanted a piece of jewelry. (True story.)
So the women who are going to the Cardinals’ official Twitter page are seeing this bad joke right out of an ‘80s sitcom made at their expense. It’s not the worst thing in the world. But it’s just one more piled on subtle little hint that this is a NO GIRLS ALLOUD club, and we’re all just bros here, just joking around.
Funny story: there are women who really, really love baseball. In fact, I know for a fact there are women who write for this site. And not just one weird one. We have at least two recappers of the feminine persuasion. One of our prospect writers is, in fact, a girl. And that bubbly fellow who does all the midday link posts? That’s not a bubbly fellow. That’s a bubbly young woman. So that’s at least four females who care so deeply about baseball that they contribute time and effort and energy to writing about the game. Knowing at least something of all their personalities, I have a feeling none of the four are particularly up in arms about the jewelry joke. But still, it’s shitty and at least a little insulting.
Far worse, though, was the reaction to the complaints. A handful of replies to the original tweet came from women, all of which basically stated some variation of: “Hey, I like baseball. That’s kind of shitty, and at least a little insulting.” And not really much more extreme than that.
Which, of course, unsurprisingly led to apocalyptic levels of anger coming back. I read tons of message boards of all varieties yesterday, just out of morbid curiosity. I’m not usually a look-at-the-wreck-on-the-highway sort of person, but I couldn’t help myself on this one.
And what I saw was a whole lot of people arguing this isn’t insulting, that no one is insulted by this, and it’s a dumb joke. Which, okay, is at least somewhat true, but here’s a secret: you don’t get to decide if someone else is insulted. If I insult someone, I don’t get to say no, that wasn’t insulting. Stop being insulted. You’re stupid, being insulted by that thing I just said you found insulting. Quit being so easily insulted, stupid. So when the baseball team makes a joke about women not liking baseball, and the women who like baseball say hey, that’s insulting, guess what? It’s insulting. You can argue whether or not it’s important that it’s insulting, but you don’t get to argue it’s not insulting.
But what I really got the most was some variation of, “This is exactly what’s wrong with our country.” And a whole bunch of talk about snowflakes and how shitty this country is nowadays. I mean, I don’t think I actually managed to get ‘beta cuck libtard’ in a perfect row like that, but I definitely got all the pieces necessary to play MRA Scrabble. In other words, it was gross. Far grosser than either the initial bad joke or the mild complaints about a shitty stereotype being expressed toward a minority of the fanbase that’s probably pretty tired of being reminded that it is, in fact, a minority of the fanbase.
So what’s my point? Honestly, I barely have one. I wish I did; I wish I had a big sweeping statement to make about all of this, and some enlightenment I came away with. But in reality, all I have is this slightly queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, thinking about the strange coincidence of receiving an emailed question about air-groping a couple days before Archie Bunker made a bad joke on the Cardinals’ Twitter account and it somehow turned into an anti-feminist donnybrook all over the internet.
I find myself wondering if maybe we should be making a bigger deal out of the second base pantomime; if I should have written two years ago when I first noticed it that hey, that’s really disrespectful, and that shouldn’t be allowed. But then I wonder if it isn’t really the harmless fun I’ve willfully ascribed it to being because that allows me to just watch baseball and enjoy it without having to think too deeply about why the stands are so frigging white most nights, and why the most common colour of female-cut sports apparel is pink.
And then I read back what I’ve written, and I wonder if writing off these players as dumb jock bros doing dumb jock bro things is giving them too little credit, and sticking them in their own little boxes in my head, and doing the same shitty thing to them that a joke about liking jewelry, not baseball, does to someone else.
So I honestly don’t know what I’m trying to say. I kind of hope the Cardinals decide the best way to promote their all-inclusive suite areas with the fancy buffets is by telling their Twitter followers to bring their morbidly obese friends to the game, since you like baseball, and they like unlimited carving station privileges. That would be a string worth following, I think.
But it bothers me that my baseball team is one of those without any sort of LGBT pride day; I hung out at Clementine’s or the Bastille a time or two over the years, and the Cardinal game was on the televisions there at night just the same as every other bar in the city. And it bothers me that my baseball team is sidling up to the bros on their Twitter feed with, Women, amirite? when they should know that the old woman sitting behind me at the game two weeks ago who was screaming at Stephen Piscotty for getting thrown out trying to steal second loves baseball, and was once a girl raised on Cardinal baseball the same way the boys in this town were. And yes, it bothers me at least a little that I’m still watching professional athletes grope invisible breasts when they collect a double. Maybe the celebration has changed; it looks a little different this year, at least. I kind of hope so.
A joke about a ring is not a big thing. It’s a little thing, really. But think of how many little things there are, just like this.