More than just ruffled feathers

Despite today’s unseasonably cold weather in Toronto, the buzz in this city around this year’s Blue Jays home opener is electric. It’s time for Toronto renew its love affair with the Jays But, comments made earlier this week by the Jays beloved general manager have ruffled feathers. Following a ruling related to an illegal play, John Gibbons remarked “maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everyone is looking for.” Social media followers were quick to respond, calling out and naming his choice of words as sexist and offensive.

In our work investing in violence prevention and gender equity, we’ve seen how language matters. By making a connection between gender and athleticism, and suggesting that a “feminized” approach is less than athletic is condescending, demeaning, and ultimately discouraging for those who want to see athletic excellence for everyone. In his leadership role as general manager, Gibbons is sending a signal to his team that, in his books, mild sexism is totally acceptable. When asked about whether he would apologize for the comments, Gibbons has maintained that he wasn’t intending anything malicious or offensive by making the statement, and has called on his critics to lighten up. He states in his defence that his wife and daughter thought it was funny.

With two of the Jays’ most beloved players, Josh Donaldson and R.A. Dickey, having acknowledged the more extreme impacts of gendered violence in their own lives, we think that it is important for Gibbons to start to see that the light-hearted joke is a kind of symptom of the gender inequality and violence in our communities.

The world of sports has taken its time catching up to evolving social attitudes. Acts of racism, homophobia and sexism continue to occur on the field and in locker rooms. But, we’ve seen that there are many who are championing a more inclusive and thoughtful place for athletes. Over the past few years, we’ve partnered with the Toronto Argonauts Argos players Matt Black, Tyler Holmes and James Yurichuk often go into schools across the greater Toronto area with our White Ribbon team to talk about why gender violence and inequality — and how men and boys can help to confront these issues. What happens in these conversations is remarkable: it’s a chance for young men to start to think about the effects that words and actions have on others — including each other.

We’re all rooting for our boys in blue this season, and we’re hoping that Gibbons starts to follow the great leadership examples of Donaldson, Dickey and our friends at the Argos in naming and understanding that his words contribute to the gender inequality in our world.