As we wind down Women’s History Month and approach an annual spring tradition—Major League Baseball’s Opening Day—it only seems fitting to call out what some have called “a toxic culture” of gender inequality and sexual harassment in America’s oldest professional sport.
Just this year, the New York Mets, the Chicago Cubs, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cleveland Indians, and the Los Angeles Angels have been tied to allegations of sexual harassment. The most high-profile incidents involved Jared Porter, who was the Mets’ general manager for 37 days until he was fired. He admitted to sending 62 unreturned texts, including nude photos, to a female reporter in 2016 when he was working for the Cubs. The Mets also dismissed hitting coach Ryan Ellis after several sexual harassment allegations against him by employees. And former Met’s manager, Mickey Callaway (now with the Angels), has been suspended over sexual misconduct and predatory behavior allegations. His previous employer, the Cleveland Indians, kept quiet about similar issues with Callaway and admitted they had “not done enough to build the inclusive culture” necessary to prevent his behavior while he worked for the team.
Unfortunately, these stories are not new and represent a pattern of behavior that has afflicted most professional sports leagues. Until organizations have better gender equity in the front office, ownership, and coaching roles, the behavior will undoubtedly continue. There is room for some optimism, however.
Earlier this month, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) released the Complete 2020 Racial and Gender Report Card, which summarizes and analyzes report cards for the past year of major sports. The WNBA, NBA, college sports and MLB all had some improvements, but there is still a long way to go. On gender, the WNBA was the only league to achieve anything above an A grade (it got an A+), while the NBA trailed with a B. Others received C grades, including the NFL, which was a downgrade from the previous year, despite the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers employing two women assistant coaches – Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust.
But after a very bad start to 2021, MLB realizes it needs to improve on a culture steeped in gender issues. The league recently established an anonymous tip line to report misconduct called “Speak Up,” with all reports investigated by the team or the commissioner’s office. The league also rolled out anti-harassment and discrimination training for all team executives.
Perhaps the best thing that happened to women in baseball the last few months was the hiring of Kim Ng in November as general manager of the Miami Marlins. Ng, who started her MLB career as an intern, became the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations as a result, and is the first female GM in the history of the league. In a statement, Ng said “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a major league team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals.”
Recognizing the importance of her appointment, Ng added “This challenge is one I don’t take lightly.” Let’s hope the male dominant league doesn’t either.