Friday, May 2, 2008

Would the Oakland A's Have Carried Kirk Gibson Around the Bases?

You probably have already heard about the two college softball players--Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace from Central Washington University--who carried Sara Tucholsky (of Western Oregon University) around the bases after Tucholsky hit a three run homer but injured her knee while rounding first base. Tucholsky could not complete her tour around the base paths unassisted and the rules prohibited her teammates from helping her. Holtman asked the umpires if it would be permissible for members of the opposing team to carry Tucholsky and they said that it would be. So Holtman and Wallace picked Tucholsky up and carried her, helping her to lower her uninjured leg to touch each base; if they had not done this then Tucholsky would have only been credited with a single. Western Oregon eventually won the game 4-2.

I first found out about this story when I read a brief item about it in Thursday's USA Today. My immediate reaction was to think that guys would be much less likely to carry an opponent around the bases than girls and I decided to write a post centered around that theme. By happenstance, I discovered that George Vecsey of the New York Times had already written a column about this subject and I am really glad that I found his piece so that I could give him a hat tip here; I am very sensitive to the importance of giving other people credit for their original ideas so I certainly want to give Vecsey full credit for asking whether or not guys would carry an opponent around the bases. That said, I don't completely agree with Vecsey's take. He acknowledges that if Kirk Gibson had required assistance after his famous World Series home run in 1988 the Oakland A's would not have helped him but Vecsey attributes that to the larger stakes involved in a World Series game as opposed to a college softball game; Vecsey cites some examples of male athletes displaying similar acts of good sportsmanship in tennis and golf events that he deems to be less important than the World Series but doesn't Vecsey's reasoning cheapen the significance not only of those situations but also of what Holtman and Wallace did? Does Vecsey think that if something larger was at stake then they would have acted differently? According to the USA Today article, losing that game cost Central Washington an opportunity to participate in the playoffs. Who is to say that such a chance is intrinsically worth less than a World Series victory?

I suspect that Holtman and Wallace would have acted the same way regardless of what was at stake--and I also suspect that most male athletes would act differently. That does not make either choice wrong. This is not a matter of cheating versus playing by the rules but rather a situation in which two individuals decided to go well beyond the letter of the law and well beyond what many people would think is required by good sportsmanship in order to do something that they felt was just in a greater sense. Holtman said, "She hit it over the fence. She deserved it. Anybody would have done it. I just beat them to it.” I understand how Holtman feels and I think that what she did is great but I don't think that males would react the same way. Honestly, if I were in that situation I don't think it would have even occurred to me to ask if I could carry the injured opposing player around the bases; I would feel empathy for the injured player but those are the breaks of the game.

What would I have done if a teammate of mine came up with the idea of carrying the opposing player around the bases? Truthfully, it would feel strange to me to receive such assistance and it would also feel strange to me to offer such assistance. I suspect that most guys, if they are honest, would feel the same way in both regards, while I suspect that many, if not most, women would be inclined to both offer and accept help in such a situation. Perhaps this is another version of that old chestnut about guys getting lost because they refuse to ask for directions; sure, that is a stereotype but it is one that contains a grain of truth: why should we be reticent to acknowledge what we know from experience, namely that women tend to be more nurturing and place a greater value on communication and cooperation while men often seek to go it alone, neither asking for nor wanting to receive help? Recognizing that there are some intrinsic differences between the genders is not incompatible with saying that everyone should have equal opportunities; men and women approach certain situations differently but all people deserve to have the opportunity to go as far in their chosen endeavors as their talents and work ethic take them. Sometimes it seems like people are afraid to admit that men and women are different because they assume or fear that such differences will be used as the basis for discrimination.

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