On the same day last week that we learned about an Arizona high school baseball quitting a championship game because there was a woman on the opposing team, President Obama delivered a commencement address to the graduating class at Columbia’s Barnard College that could have served as a pep talk to the walk-off team. Make no mistake: This is part of a theme that’s shaping up around social issues including women’s and minority rights.
“After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation,” Obama told the graduating class. “Never underestimate the power of your example.”
Paige Sulzbach, Second Base, Mesa Prep, is one of those examples. As it happens, my sister was one of those examples too — the first woman to play on her high school baseball team. (That’s her on the left, in the photo below.) She told me she wouldn’t have done anything differently than Paige. “She proved herself a competitor, the same as any other,” my sister said, reiterating homage for the game she still calls “chess on grass,” our national pastime.
It’s unfortunate when examples are met with prejudice. But the chess metaphor also applies to politics.
The President should reach out to Sulzbach, as he reached out to Sandra Fluke, the woman recently berated for speaking out about reproductive rights. The contexts are different but the impact is the same. Radical conservatives stand in the path of social equality. The President spoke out against bigotry last week regarding marriage and sexual orientation; he spoke out last Monday against sexism in general. He spoke to the progress of equality over past decades and also under his presidential watch: Just as a woman should be paid equally for their work, she should be able to qualify for fielding second base. On the boy’s team. If she chooses.
It doesn’t matter if you feel the GOP’s efforts amount to a “war” in their initiatives on contraception, Planned Parenthood, or responses to extremist talkers like Rush Limbaugh, who called Ms. Fluke a “slut” for suggesting a woman’s had the right to control her own body. What matters is that some of us still don’t look at each other equally. Men can only imagine what women who choose to play on the boys’ team get called. I’m sure my sister caught some of it.
“Paige and her teammates have all had a valuable experience that will serve them well both on and off the field and for years to come,” my sister said. It would serve us all well.
“Until a girl can…picture herself as a computer programmer, or a combatant commander, she won’t become one,” the President said Monday. Add playing baseball to that list. “Persevere,” the President advised the graduates.
Let’s hope the team that walked off the field in Arizona will also try to persevere, overcome their biases. It would make us all a stronger team.