By Eddie Pells
The Associated Press
Softball, that friendly, fun game many Americans grow up playing, suddenly finds itself entangled in a hardball debate about sexual orientation, editorial judgment and the future of the Supreme Court.
It all stems from speculation in the media that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is a lesbian.
Sparking the interest was a nearly two-decades-old picture of Kagan playing softball on the front page of Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. That quickly morphed into an online debate about whether the paper used the photo to make a point — essentially, that if she plays softball, she must be gay.
The newspaper denies the photo was used for any such purpose.
Nevertheless, the president of the International Softball Federation, Don Porter, felt the need to weigh in.
Porter insists softball is for everyone, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
“The media has chosen to try to put a label on athletes who play this sport,” he said. “I’ve heard more about softball that way in one week than I did about our sport, period, in one year during” the campaign to get softball back in the Olympics.
“While it’s good to hear our sport mentioned in the major media during the past few days, it has been more in a negative sense than positive. …”
Those who play and coach the game were equally dismayed.
“We’ve come so far,” said Jessica Mendoza, a two-time Olympian and president of the Women’s Sports Foundation from Camarillo, “and to have even one person think that showing a photo would correlate with someone’s orientation, I want to yell out and say, ‘Where have you been? Look around.’”
But stereotypes run deep. Those about female athletes go back at least to the days when a girl with some athletic promise immediately got the label “tomboy,” because, for instance, she could throw a baseball far. Or, in other words, because she didn’t “throw like a girl.”
The landmark Title IX legislation, passed in 1972, brought about more opportunities and gradually, girls and women playing sports in college, high schools and recreational leagues became more accepted.
“It is shocking, that here we are in the 21st century and something like this is being brought up,” two-time Olympian Jennie Finch said.
Her former teammate, Stacey Nuveman, agrees.
“In the sporting community, having gay and lesbian players on teams is more accepted and a known entity than it once was,” she said. “But it’s still something that, in the general landscape of things, we have a long way to go.”