Diversity in Sports: Still an Issue in 2013?

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Girl in Blue Jays shirtA colleague today mentioned the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays — a much improved team compared to what was fielded in 2012. It’s owned and operated by Rogers Blue Jays baseball Partnership, a division of Rogers Communications

I opened up their website and scanned through it, quite excited by the upcoming season and the game schedule. It was only when I clicked through to their team roster that I saw this:

Blue Jays 2013 Roster

I had to go back and check a second time to be sure: 40 athletes, all male. Not a single woman (at the time of writing).

I can’t remember the last time I saw a baseball roster with this many names, which only makes it worse. If they’d featured one woman alongside 39 men, it would’ve been embarrassing. To feature none looks almost deliberate.

The lineup of players is brilliant — there’s some of the leading hitters and pitchers of the MLB scene on that list. But none of them are women. Are there no women out there worth a place amongst these 40 baseball experts?

Via telephone, I put this question to Alex Anthopoulos, the team’s General Manager. He wasn’t happy with my accusation that the team’s roster was “inexcusable”, though:

Who is this? How did you get my number?

I pressed him, asking him if he really didn’t think there were any worthy female athletes to be found. He replied that my argument was a straw man, and that he wouldn’t be “debating” it further. I was massively disappointed (and haven’t heard back since, despite further requests for clarity and a pending restraining order).

Now, I’ve seen Anthopoulos speak at news conferences before and he’s very good — a talented GM, innovative thinker and all-round nice guy. I don’t for a minute think he’s sexist or deliberately curating a roster which doesn’t include any female players. His refusal, though, to engage with my (and others’) concerns about the representation that the Blue Jays organization offers, is a big issue for me.

His comment about ‘not knowing how I got his phone number’ doesn’t cut it in 2013. I’ve seen excuses from other criticised GMs, saying that they couldn’t find any female baseball players, or the ones they asked didn’t want to play, or that their minor league system just doesn’t have that many female prospects — I don’t think it’s good enough any more.

I don’t know what their drafting process is, but if it was me running the team, I would explicitly not be satisfied with a process that resulted in 100% male baseball players. I would have stopped once we’d reached, say, 31 male out of 40 possible draftees (being pretty conservative, I think) and insisted that the remaining 9 (a cool 22% female representation) would have to be women.

And, if I’d genuinely been unable to find any women using my mysterious “drafting”, or all the ones I’d asked weren’t interested, or some freak event meant that any available woman was swept into a hurricane on opening day and would be unable to play, I would have added a note stating as much, prominently, underneath the roster of 40 men, not leaving it to fans to draw their own conclusions about my interest in encouraging equality at sporting events.

I appreciate the hard work and often high costs that go into organising a baseball season. It’s perhaps unfairly easy to pick on athletic-focussed events for being overly male in demographics, especially in a sport where female representation is particularly low. The NFL’s own recent football season was poorly supported by women, both in terms of players and fans — this stuff is hard.

But with the recent high-profile cancellation (delay?) of the NHL hockey season with a similarly poor female representation (although we could discuss the black/white thing too…), I honestly can’t fathom why anybody organising baseball teams in 2013 doesn’t have this stuff tattooed onto their frontal lobe. Look:

I don’t want to start a Twitter mob or cause a baseball season to be cancelled. But I do want to know why a well-intentioned group of scouts and front-office staff have managed to create a season stunning for its cheap ticket prices, its strong athletic talent, and its hugely disappointing lack of the most basic diversity — and it won’t even acknowledge there’s a problem.

The Blue Jays are often referred to as “The Boys of Summer”. I think it’s time they adopt a more politically correct moniker — and mean it.

Please Read This Before Commenting!

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest in web drama, then you know why I wrote this mock/parody piece. So just to set the record straight:

  • The only web development book I’ve co-authored to date was co-authored by two women
  • The other two books I was involved with were also written by women
  • In my opinion, some of the smartest people in web development are: Divya Manian, Lea Verou, Nicole Sullivan, Estelle Weyl, Garann Means, Rachel Andrew, and Manoela Ilic. Not just the smartest “women”; the smartest people, all men included. And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

This post is not intended to suggest that I think it’s okay for conferences to intentionally exclude female speakers. Far from it. But sometimes it will just happen that way, based on interest, availability, and other factors. Sure, it might be mildly surprising to see an all-male conference line-up. But I choose to assume the best in the organizers.

Overall, I think this is a non-issue, and I couldn’t agree more with this tweet by Jeff Atwood:

8 Responses

  1. Surprised not to see more comments. I think there’s a lot of shooting selves in feet going on around this issue, there are undoubtedly numerous glass ceilings and exclusionary behaviours going on in different industries, but there’s also a lot of attention grabbing and pointless trouble making. A great example happened this year in the film industry I noticed because I’m interested in it. The award shortlist at Cannes was all male this year and shortly before the festival kicked off a feminist group did a big press hit complaining the festival was clearly sexist which led to demands of quotas of female filmmakers having to be fulfilled in festival awards schedules and so forth. A great relief was seeing Andrea Arnold, one of the finest filmmakers in the world and a big hitting award winner for her work, coming out and saying publicly that she was only interested in competing against the best filmmakers in the world and would be appalled to be included on an awards shortlist to fulfill some kind of pro-female quota which was innately more sexist because it assumed women would never be as good at filmmaking as men and would need that quota to be included in things. Thank you Andrea for such a common sense perspective. It’s important to keep pushing equality of every kind but it needs to stay focused in places it’s actually needed rather than creating issues where they don’t exist just to get some PR.

    • [There were originally two other comments posted here by someone else (not the person I'm replying to). I chose to discuss the issue with the person via email instead and it's now resolved.]

  2. Bob:

    Mock/parody piece? I was about to say you can’t be serious with this.

    Whenever I start wondering about women in baseball, I just fire up “A League of their Own”, and all is well.

    By that token, why is the WNBA and the NBA separate? Put them both on the same court and then you’ll see.

    Even though (if?) this was a mock/parody piece, advocating for women’s equality is nice and all, but there’s just some areas where you hit hard biological limits. Maybe women would have had a chance in the steroid era, but their boat has sailed.

    • Nailed it on the head. Go to the Olympics and compare the times/stats of men to women. There are reasons they’re kept separate. Biologically, the best women cannot compete with the best men in a lot of athletic categories. Any sport that is filled with men is that way for a reason. There’s no “we prefer men, so we won’t pick women”. Rather, coaches/GM’s/whoever just go and choose the best players they can get their hands on.

      I’m also in league with the point that SDGSteve made that there should never be a “quota” to make sure you have a minimum number of women included. Just choose who is best for what you’re choosing. It’s not sexist if all the best happen to be men.

      • Agree with Joe. It’s not a question of men or women. There are just some sports where physical attributes are very important. Women are physically capable too, don’t get me wrong.

  3. This is always an issue – and getting your point across in a provocative way is a nice touch. Yes, this is true at the moment, but as news articles are saying more women are graduating and becoming more of the work force then ever – the trend should have many men worried ;) – that can stay home, raise the kids and watch sports…. Regarding sports – too few make too much, and now (as your table above show – most well over 6 feet tall) most athletes are genetic freaks and how inspirational is that to most of us – instead of people being inspirational as “one of us” who tries hard and achieves – they are .01%, gladiators to the masses and I would rather watch a college game in most instances – female participation if not $$ are supposed to be 50% there ;)

  4. It’s a good thing it’s non-issue for you. It isn’t for the many women who would like to get ahead in the industry. On the other hand, I’m glad you posted this so I know not to come back to your site.

    • It’s a non-issue for two reasons:

      1) There are tons of females “getting ahead” in this industry, thus making the issue moot. Look at the ones I named in my post. I’ll never be as good a developer or designer as most, if not all of them. Females are doing more than fine in this industry, and the fact that people want to help them “get ahead” actually takes away their dignity. As if they can’t do it on their own, when clearly they can.

      2) The web design/dev industry is male-heavy in general, not just in conference speaker line-ups. You can’t expect to have 20% female representation in the industry as a whole, but then expect 30% or more female representation in conference line-ups.

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