That Good Ol’ Locker Room Immunity

Tyler Dunnington retired from baseball because he felt he couldn’t be both an openly gay person and a baseball player at the same time. This, in an age after the abolition of “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell.” This, in an era where openly gay people are at all levels of virtually every industry. We have had openly gay congresspersons overwhelmingly elected by their constituents, but at least one individual saw that those same abilities didn’t extend to the lowest levels of professional baseball.

Let’s get this out of the way. It’s another terrible embarrassment for the Cardinals organization. It’s another chance for critics to make mocking comments about “The Cardinal Way.” It’s another day where trolls will take advantage of a very serious situation and turn it into a way to trash talk innocent individuals for the sin of rooting for the “wrong team.”

It’s silly to engage in this conversation. The notion that this issue might be isolated to the Cardinals, or encouraged by the organization is preposterous. No serious mind would consider this to be a Cardinals issue; indeed, that sort of thinking would only to be to allow it to foster it among the other 29 organizations. Even that considers this to be an MLB issue, which is a falsehood. While we could push this out to the entire world, the reality is that when it comes to a profitable sports franchise, winning far exceeds dignity. That goes for the Cardinals, and that goes for the smallest state school’s least profitable sport. That goes for the fans, too. They will punish a team far more for finishing in 2nd, than they will for employing a cheater, a bigot, a murderer.

It’s sillier still to defend the Cardinals to these trolls. The above paragraph may be completely true; however, that’s not a defense. It’s nothing more than universal guilt. The Cardinals brass may have no clue what goes on in their rookie league clubhouses, but it’s almost impossible to think that plenty of coaches and players haven’t heard – and/or agreed with disgusting sentiments that wouldn’t be allowed in your workplace or mine. Even more so, it seems that there isn’t encouragement to speak out against this sort of thing. A gay player stayed silent and turned to quitting the game altogether, apparently, over talking to someone in leadership. I’m not talking about outing himself, I’m talking about being comfortable enough to say that even a straight person should find this sort of talking deplorable. It appears leadership allows a culture where bigots feel free to speak their mind, and those straight or gay feels they must remain silent.

(I don’t particularity care about bigots, personally. It’s pretty difficult to offend me. I do believe people do and should have the right to be idiots. They can think and say whatever they want, and suffer the consequences of their words. What I don’t like is the misbalance of the exchange of ideas. If bigots are going to speak, by God, let’s hope others feel OK speaking out against them.)

This isn’t about gay or straight, necessarily. Last year we saw the vast defense, and indeed the praise of Jonathan Papelbon trying to strangle another human being. Somehow this is OK because they are a sports team. Somehow, athletic competition gives them social rights that you or I don’t have. I don’t believe it. I was aghast as seemingly smart people agreeing with it. It’s not logical at its base. Entering a clubhouse is not an exit from civil society. Until this is understood, this culture isn’t going to change. Frankly, it looks like it isn’t going to change anytime soon.

I recognize that the article is coming from the perspectives and memories of a single individual speaking to an advocacy outlet. I’m not ready to throw the book at unnamed players and coaches without getting their perspectives as well. I have no idea if statements were taken wrong in some way, maybe misremembered, exaggerated, I have no idea. I am open to the idea that the stories could be inaccurate.

The article itself states:

“the members of the teams having no idea there was a gay man in their midst.”

Of course, this is a ridiculous statement. How Tyler, or the writer, could possibly know that on all the different teams Tyler played on, that no one suspected he is gay, is absurd. This isn’t about stereotypes, or some sort of “Gaydar,” it’s about the simple reality that there isn’t a chance they’ve gotten into the head of each coach and player that Tyler ever played with and knew what was in their minds.

Such a statement does lead one to question what else might be, at a minimum, exaggerated. I’d like to think I am a healthy skeptic of all things in life, but I’m even skeptical of that. When a matter is this serious, I don’t need to be jumping to any conclusions without plenty more evidence.

Regardless, there is now a story of a minor league player with a gay brother who was actually questioned by two teammates about how he could be “friends” with his brother. Apparently, for them, disgust for a sexual preference transcends love of blood. It speaks volumes that they felt their stature as teammates gave them permission to speak out against a person’s family.

Those individuals were lucky to be in their locker room, in their own civilization granted to them by their athletic abilities. If you’re like me you’re imagining all the things you wish you could have said to them in that situation. I’ve spend my evening distracted, playing it over in my head. In my world, in your world, their ignorance would have left their adulthood looking for a reset button. Their young careers, their young reputations would be tarnished. The lessons would have been immediate and painful.

Instead we almost never heard about this. Because locker rooms aren’t your office, man; the locker room environment calls for behaviors you or I can’t understand. This isn’t our piddling little society; this is something entirely different. It’s necessary. In a locker room world you can shame a gay man into retirement. You can choke a person you disagree with. You can berate a teammate about his love for his brother. After all, this is important. This is sports.

One thought on “That Good Ol’ Locker Room Immunity

  1. Well put. Not a great day to be a Cardinals fan, but hopefully this revulsion at the idea of homophobia in 2016 will show the idiots who said those things that…well, if you want to be a homophobe, do it behind closed doors and don’t tell anyone about it.


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