Msnowe's Blog

the office political/softball team

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on May 7, 2008

Despite the most recent primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, we seem to like skirting the coasts of Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations. But why, when it’s already clear that (unfortunately or not) in all probability, she will have to concede to Obama, and his lead in delegates and primary states? It can’t be solely because everyone is hungry for an ongoing story–and even the idea that a knock-em-down battle royale can’t be the only rationale. So what is it?

There are, perhaps a few ways to explain this phenomenon. And while these rationales can be extremely divergent, it’s highly likely that all exist and come into play together, thereby creating a powerful amalgam, increasing the public’s fascination with this “close race” that hasn’t really been as close as people like to think.

Since everybody (or at least those white middle-aged male pundits) seem to like sports analogies, here’s an extended one for you all (sort of). This race, and the greater political system, is like a company softball team, and the etiquette followed therein.

First, team makeup. The team, while really hoping to be competitive, is open to anyone who wants to give it a go. They may not get to play more than an inning here or there, but they get a jersey, and go to practice. Then you have your regulars, and starters. It’s good to be a starter, a regular, a well-seasoned player who understands the formulas of camaraderie. Both Clinton and Obama are, by degrees, like these players–they’re generally respected, known names in the field, and they have the stamina and commitment to show up to every game.

But the rules of the office softball leagues are stacked against a fair-fielded team, and there exists a not-so-subtle atmosphere of discrimination, that when viewed on the field, may be innocuous enough, but what many don’t realize is that the playing field is an exact replica of the political office race, dirt pitch excluded (most of the time!). The rules of the softball game are simple: Co-ed teams with two outfielders, meaning you need ten players on the field in order to have a true game. The special stipulation is that out of those ten, you need to have AT LEAST four female players on the field at all times. This co-ed rule is telling, because it automatically assumes that every team will have only a limited number of females, and to make things more “fair” the team needs to scout at least four women to play. This is a fearful pursuit, because some players don’t want women “muddying up” their chances at intra-office glory to go sour. The fear is made funnier still because softball originated out of fear–fear that women would flood little league baseball teams, therefore disrupting the All-American male “purity” of the sport. It seems after the age of 16 or 17, the rules switch as the advantageou– factor turns toward the guys. The very fact that “less-competitive” office play is associated with softball instead of baseball is another topic worth discussing, but maybe later (and what is so “soft” about softball anyways? those who’ve been hit with both base- and soft- balls will tell you that neither one smarts any less than the other, and in fact a softball might hurt more, seeing as the larger ball creates a large surface area of bruising!).

But back to the four girls on the company team rule. Co-ed integration in the league has been coerced rather than accepted. Women are begrudgingly given a spot on many a team, and sometimes it is disguised by begging. There is no similar rule about fielding a team with “at least four males” or “at least four people of a different race than the majority.” Why? Because: A. it seems a bit weird to racially designate, and B. it’s assumed that minorities will already be on the team, and they are usually welcomed. Jackie Robinson was a long time ago–according to sports fans anyways–and race is no longer a controversy in sports. In fact, often the opposite is true–everyone knows that minority group members who come to the US to play sports are often better than your average WASP players (and we mean people of all races — whether from Asia, Africa, or South America). No sports fan would wish to re-segregate sports. But sex-segregation–that’s a different ballgame. Where race is touchy, people have no problem assuming that women aren’t up to snuff, and they make it apparent in the rules, and the team dynamics.

After playing and observing many more office softball games than is healthy to admit, the positions women are placed in are often the same: right field, right-center field, second base and sometimes first base. The first base female is also often the best of the women players. While there is nothing wrong with these positions in a major league team setting, they speak volumes in an office one. Anyone who knows the scantest bit about softball/baseball will tell you that the right side of the field (where all these positions populate) sees the least amount of balls, because most players are right-handed hitters and find it very hard to pull the ball to the left. Since there are less lefties, there are less balls hit to the right side. The obvious reason the best woman player on the team is put on first base is that she will be an integral part of making outs while at first base–she has to consistently catch the throws coming from the left side of the field. Numerous games have come and gone with women at the lousy positions, and at the end of the batting order. They play, oh yes, but only because the law requires it are they allowed. The same rings true for this primary season, in a way. Clinton wants to play, and the democrats think it’s a lovely show of their liberal spirit to allow her a position (on the left, no less!). But no one seriously believed she’d be able to handle short stop or bat clean up–and that has nothing to do with a fair estimation of her abilities. It’s obnoxious and mean-spirited to play the gender card, but we can’t forget that no one with a full-deck doesn’t utilize it every once and a while.

The fact is, just as the surprised teammates over-congratulate and patronize the young female teammate with faces of disbelief when she hits a nice triple, people lauded Clinton for the mere fact that she got on base, when in truth she should have been held to the same standards and methods of scrutiny as her male teammates. Instead, the standards were more likely to center on what her husband is up to, similar to the attention paid to how to accommodate a pony tail or hair-sprayed style in a batting helmet. The fact is, although race is a huge issue, gender was OKAY to critique and use as a method of bashing, whereas race was a no-no–as it should be–but so should gender! Don’t believe that? Well, compare this: Is it more common to hear: “you throw like a girl”, or “you throw like a black man”? And even if you were to hear both on a regular basis, which one would be viewed as more derogatory? Even in the face of the Wright problem, Obama has come out relatively unscathed. Yet Clinton is still getting jabs for saying she doesn’t like to bake cookies! The problem is gender is still perceived as an issue worth stereotyping and accepted when stereotyped. Men of all races have slowly and surely found their foothold in politics–and similar to the right to vote, people of different races have secured their opportunity (and at least written legal equality) before women of any race or creed did, and in many cases, will.

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