Little League Baseball and a lost opportunity for exposing the continuum

Little League Baseball, which began in the late 1930s, maintained a policy of allowing only boys to participate for more than its first 30 years of existence. When in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a few individual teams allowed girls to participate, LLB addressed this issue by threatening to revoke the charters of leagues in which girls participated. With this strategy LLB was able to resist the entry of females for a few years. However, following a 1973 lawsuit filed by the National Organization for Women on behalf of Maria Pepe (a young baseball player in New Jersey), LLB was forced to allow girls onto its teams.

The possibility of young boys and girls playing baseball together would seem to create quite a possibility of exposing what sport sociologist Mary Jo Kane has referred to as a continuum of athletic ability wherein “many women routinely outperform many men and, in some cases, women outperform most—if not all—men in a variety of sports and physical skills/activities” (1995, p. 193). However, rather than embrace this opportunity, Little League officials created softball leagues — a decision that has worked to maintain Little League Baseball as a largely sex-segregated institution. While many might argue that sex segregation is necessary for the benefit (protection) of women, this example demonstrates how it is often men’s interests that are protected by sex-segregation in sport.

References:

  • Kane, M. J. (1995). Resistance/transformation of the oppositional binary: Exposing sport as a continuum. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 19(2), 191 -218.
  • McDonagh, E., & Pappano, L. (2008). Playing with the boys: Why separate is not equal in sports. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Messner, M. A. (2009). It’s all for the kids: Gender, families, and youth sports. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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