Another culture war skirmish: Dissident rightwing Catholic school baseball team won’t play team with female 2nd base

While we watch the battle of how the battle over gay marriage affects the election (a battle, of course), real life marches on.  And in Arizona, that means another manifestation of right-wing craziness.

This week, a Phoenix high school baseball team refused to play an opponent with a girl starting at 2nd base and so forfeited a shot at the state baseball championship.  Fox News reports a spokesperson for the school, Lady of Sorrows Academy, as saying “Teaching our boys to treat ladies with deference, we choose not to place them in an athletic competition where proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty…. Our school aims to instill in our boys a profound respect for women and girls.”

Media reports described Our Lady of Sorrows as being run by traditionalist, conservative priests who do not agree with Roman Catholic Church reforms enacted by the Vatican II Council in the 1960’s and who broke from the Church in the 1980’s. Sounds like the kind of school to which Mel Gibson would send his kids.

While I feel sorry for the 15-year-old girl in an uneasy spotlight, whose only sin is to be extremely good at something, I feel sorrier still for the boys who forfeited the game.  They are learning a wrong-headed view of women’s roles in society, one that is out of step with much of society, even in ultra-conservative Arizona.

I don’t want to blame all Arizonans for the benighted opinions of one school and the boys it influences, but  sometimes it does seem as if Arizona (and Texas) is a completely different country from the one I inhabit in the northeast.  Anti-immigration laws, political vendettas against Planned Parenthood, anti-gay marriage measures, restrictive voter ID laws, extremely loose gun laws…if it’s part of the right-wing agenda, you’ll find it in Arizona.

When I think of my son’s experience playing sports with women in Pittsburgh, Boston and now Palo Alto, the contrast of his attitude to that of the Lady of Sorrows boy’s team is incredibly stark.  My son has been part of many coeducational intramural teams at Northeastern and Stanford and not once have I ever heard him use anything other than a completely unisexual language to describe the contests or teammates.  No whiff of, “she’s great for a girl.” In fact, when he bragged recently about the fact that two of his current female soccer teammates (or is it volley ball?) had played varsity in high school or college, it was as if he were talking about male teammates, except for the names. Yes we raised him to respect women, but those lessons were reinforced by the public and private high schools he attended and the general ambience growing up in a culturally diverse urban neighborhood.

Nowadays only the real players are left in baseball by high school. Actually, the big weeding out comes four or five years earlier in Little League.  A lot of 10 and 11 year olds just can’t stand the thought of a 12 year old throwing three inches away from their body without experiencing some bladder discomfort and so quit in the year or two after Intermediate (or pre-Little League) ball ends.  They go to soccer, to crew, to lacrosse, to golf, to swimming, to tennis. Only the real players and the natural athletes stick with balls and strikes. Anyone who can start at any position for any high school baseball team anywhere in the country is a very good player.

And whether it’s an African-American or a woman, not letting a good player play shows disrespect for the game.  And it shows a sorrowful disrespect for all women, not the respect that Our Lady of Sorrows says it want its young men to show towards the other sex.

I want to close with a short toot about a poetry reading I’m doing at 7:00 pm on Thursday, June 7, at the Big Idea Book Store, 4812 Liberty Avenue in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Other readers that evening will be two friends of mine, Mike Schneider and Joan Bauer. All the poems I’m reading will be anti-war in one way or another and you can get a taste of a few of them at the blogsite of the organizer of the event, Romella Kitchens.


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