It’s Going to Take More than Talk to Change Baseball’s Bro Culture

Dude, that’s so gay.

Chris Evans is a pretty good-looking guy, no homo.

You actually like Bud Light Lime? What a fag.

I’d love to say that nothing like that has ever passed my lips, but that would be disingenuous. I’m just as guilty of getting caught up in the ignorant bro culture of the locker room or the frat house as anyone, so I’m not just standing in an ivory tower and upbraiding the troglodytic masses with self-righteous censure here.

But just as I cringe when I look back and think about some of the things I’ve said and done in the name of sophomoric humor, I found myself appalled by what I read Wednesday regarding former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand Tyler Dunnington. Though he remained in the closet during his college and professional careers, Dunnington shared in a letter to Outsports that homophobic conversations in various locker rooms had taken away his love for the game.

I was also one of the unfortunate closeted gay athletes who experienced years of homophobia in the sport I loved. I was able to take most of it with a grain of salt but towards the end of my career I could tell it was affecting my relationships with people, my performance, and my overall happiness.

I experienced both coaches and players make remarks on killing gay people during my time in baseball, and each comment felt like a knife to my heart. I was miserable in a sport that used to give me life, and ultimately I decided I needed to hang up my cleats for my own sanity [emphasis mine].

That last line is just gut-wrenching. I can’t relate to the specific reasons Dunnington gave for leaving the sport and I don’t want to try to, but I do know what it’s like to walk away from the game you love. Of course, I didn’t have to deal with all the inevitable mansplaining about how this is simply boys being boys and how such talk is an occupational hazard that he should have known was part of the deal.

And therein lies the real issue here, which is that we’ve long held up the clubhouse or the locker room as these impenetrable bastions of chauvinism in which men can be men. I mean, have you seen the stuff that goes on in those places? The irrational fear hiding behind traditional constructs of masculinity is laughable.

Homosexuality: bad. Thinly-veiled homoerotic hijinks: all day, son!

Major League Baseball has taken strides to improve its diversity, specifically by promoting former Ambassador for Inclusion Billy Bean to Vice President. But as Craig Calcaterra points out in Hardball Talk, the public stance taken by the league isn’t necessarily echoed by the private views of those who operate under its umbrella. And it’s with those individual executives, coaches, and players that real change is going to have to take place.

Paradigm shifts don’t occur because people are forced to behave a certain way in order to simply abide by company policy. If anything, that could engender hostility and resentment toward those presumed to be the source of such behavioral modification. You see, the thing about ignorance is that it’s not always willful. Telling someone they have to do something “just because” isn’t actually providing them with the knowledge they lack.

“Given how easily people seem to ‘get it’ once they get to know people different from them as opposed to considering issues of diversity in the abstract,” Calcaterra wrote, “it especially takes hiring people of different backgrounds, or different races to work the day-to-day jobs in the game.”

And that’s really what this is about, getting people to “get it.” What exactly that looks like, I’m not sure. What I do know is that men like Tyler Dunnington and David Denson, the only openly gay player in baseball right now, are helping to drive the conversation around the topic and drag it out from the rug under which we’ve swept it.

It’s not going to be comfortable for everyone involved, but change never is. My only hope is that this game we all love will continue to find ways to embrace all of us, rather than push even one more person away.

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