Banning hazing with female costumes is a step forward for MLB culture

News broke on Monday night of the details of MLB’s new ban on a specific type of hazing that’s been common in baseball for years. No longer can rookies be forced to wear women’s costumes and any costumes deemed offensive based on someone’s “race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identify or other characteristic.”

This means that the days of MLB teams making their rookies dress up as princesses, “Baywatch” lifeguards and cheerleaders are over. To some people within baseball, this is a time-honored tradition, so current and former MLB players weren’t thrilled about the new rule.

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If you’re wondering why there are only reactions representing one side of the story, it’s because thus far on social media, current and former players are taking the position that it’s a shame that MLB outlawed this, that they were proud they got to dress up and it was an enjoyable experience for them.

But that’s actually the key to understanding one of the reasons this practice was banned.

In an MLB clubhouse, just like on any team and even regular workplaces, it’s about fitting in and not ruffling feathers. A boisterous, outgoing guy like Kevin Youkilis didn’t have a problem with dressing up, so it’s assumed that everyone feels that way. The veterans on the team want the rookies to put on princess costumes, so the rookies do it regardless of how they feel.

Miami Marlins rookies dressed up in
Miami Marlins rookies dressed up in

But it’s clear that not everyone was OK with it, and making the assumption that everyone is cool with it is toxic. Some guys just don’t want to dress up like women, for any of a million completely valid reasons. MLB itself reported that it had received complaints from players. And we’re not hearing from those guys because it’s still about fitting in and not ruffling feathers. They don’t want to be singled out, ridiculed or shunned because they don’t agree with the old hazing traditions. For players in the majors, being different from your teammates can still be very difficult.

That’s why what MLB has done here is so important. Future rookies who might be different, who might not want to participate in that specific kind of hazing ritual, don’t have to worry about it, because it’s over. It helps the players in MLB who don’t feel like they can publicly express themselves about this kind of rookie hazing, because they don’t want to be made fun of or isolated by their teammates, i.e. their coworkers who they spend at least seven solid months with both day and night.

That’s another vital part of this: hazing in MLB is distinctly different than hazing in college. When you join a sports team or pledge a fraternity in college, you’re making a choice to pursue an extra-curricular activity. For MLB players, this is their job. Imagine being told by someone you work with, someone who may have been at the company longer than you but is essentially your peer, that you *need* to put on a wig and a leotard and be photographed on social media. That absolutely wouldn’t fly.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that the MLB Players Association wasn’t necessarily 100 percent on board with this. The language in the AP story is carefully chosen.

As part of the sport’s new labor deal, set to be ratified by both sides Tuesday, the players’ union agreed not to contest it.

That essentially means that the MLBPA didn’t bring it up or pursue it. It just chose not to fight it. And even MLB, in doing this service to players who just don’t want to dress up as women, showed more than a little cynicism in their explanation of why it pursued this.

Here’s what MLB Vice President Paul Mifsud said to the AP:

”…in light of social media, which in our view sort of unfortunately publicized a lot of the dressing up of the players … those kind of things which in our view were insensitive and potentially offensive to a number of groups.”

Getting roasted on social media isn’t a bad reason to stop doing something, but it’s not the same as saying “we’ve stopped this practice because it demeans women, who are half of our fanbase, and that’s wrong.”

Because dressing up like that does demean women. The players might do it to be funny, but there’s a deeper message there that is often overlooked. When burly, strong baseball players dress up as women, they mean it to be funny because they’re dressing up as something that’s theoretically so much weaker than they are. They think it’s funny because it’s a girly lady dress and a wig and it’s sparkly and not “manly” in their narrow, traditional definition of the word. That sends a terrible message to kids who look at baseball players as role models.

Young boys get the message that being a girl is something bad, because they’re weaker. As for girls, the message they get is worse, because they already don’t have a lot of role models in baseball. So they see these players dressed up as women, or even worse, as some of the characters they love and it’s meant to be a joke. They’re jokes, and the things they love are jokes. There’s really just no need for it.

Even the AP article points out that there are plenty of other ways to put rookies through their paces without making them put on bras and wear women’s costumes.

Not all outfits are banned – superheroes such as Batman and Spider-Man are OK. Other past costumes that would be allowed include San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner as a giant ketchup bottle, Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton on the U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig as Gumby.

There are literally thousands of different costume options available. They could dress up as lobsters or bananas or creepy babies. Without women’s costumes in the mix, there are still so very many choices. Players might be complaining about this now, but soon it’ll be a distant memory. Some will still pine for the “good old days” of being able to force other players to dress up like women against their will, but this is a change that will make baseball and its culture — both inside and out — better in the long run.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher