If sports were a love language, it would have been my daddy’s. He ate, drank, slept, and breathed baseball.
I remember spending Saturdays watching the History Channel’s nine-hour anthology of the history of baseball. I remember watching a feature on Jackie Robinson’s life. I remember how inspired I was by his perseverance in breaking through the racial barrier in major league baseball. I remember admiring the toughness of Ty Cobb, the confidence of Babe Ruth, and the selflessness of Lou Gehrig. I remember the tragic loss baseball fans endured when Pete Rose bet on games and lost out on the Hall of Fame as a result.
I wanted to be them. I wanted to be all of them put together. And so, with all of that inspiration in my heart, I’d follow Dad out to the front yard for our weekly baseball game. I would slug those whiffle balls with all my heart, and watch them soar over the roof for our version of a “home run.”
There were four kids, so we always had enough players to put a good game together. Two on two, with Dad as the eternal pitcher.
But I knew I would never really be one of them. I knew, deep in my heart, that I would never truly make my daddy proud. My performance would never go beyond those front-yard games.
Because his love language was baseball, and there was no room for girls in that world.
Softball was never mentioned in those early formative years as something remotely valuable compared to baseball, and we did not spend any time studying the heroes of the female version of the sport.
In many ways, my early childhood revolved around baseball.
As we grew older, the girls were expected to spend our Saturdays at the baseball fields, watching our brothers play in Little League games. Our family conversations afterwards revolved around analyzing different players’ performances, their prospects for the future, and the coaches’ actions and reactions.
My sister tried a brief stint in softball, but didn’t like it and didn’t continue. I tried to join later, but was told I wasn’t cut out for it and probably wouldn’t like it either. Much of my early years revolved around supporting my brothers’ Little League careers.
And then there were the Dodger games we watched as a family on Sundays.
Vin Scully had a brilliant ability to mesh information about the game with interesting tidbits about the player’s personal lives, making each of us feel like we were a part of the Dodger “family.” Except, the “family” only included women as peripheral characters who happened to be the wife or daughter of a player.
Occasionally, we would watch a college softball game, but I remember my dad and brothers poking fun at softball because of the different pitching style. Not to mention the glaring reality that they were college games, and as far as women could go in the sport. There were no major leagues or even minor leagues for women.
This led to intense feelings of inadequacy as a girl. I came to believe that I was not as important, not as admirable, and not as worthy of attention and praise as a male. And then high school came, and my insecurity about my gender deepened.
I became an all-out track star. In fact, by my senior year, I took first place in most track races for my two events. I set the school’s record for the fastest time in my event that year and earned the MVP award at our banquet.
And yet, one thing was constant for me throughout the season—empty bleacher seats. My family never made it out, not even once, to see me cross that finish line in first. I had become quite an athlete, but somehow, my accomplishments were never as important as my brothers’ baseball careers.
I could never be as good as the boys, no matter how much I shone. This was encapsulated by my high school graduation day. Instead of remaining until the event was over, my family left early to attend my brother’s baseball playoff game.
Fast forward to college. I had never played before, but I picked up a volleyball, joined a class for a semester, and then made the school’s volleyball team. The same reality was to repeat itself.
No, at this sport I was not a star. But I was participating in a college sport—one that I had never played before in my life. For all the admiration granted to my brothers, I remain the only member of our family who has played a college-level sport. And yet, my family never once attended a game.
So my question is this:
Do we believe in our daughters the same way we believe in our sons? Do we validate girls’ dreams and accomplishments to the same degree?
Your daughters needs your love and admiration just as much as your sons. Find a female-friendly outlet for your sports passions, and intentionally support your daughters’ participation in that world.
Girls matter. Whether it’s supporting girls in sports, education, or the church, your actions tell girls that they’re important, or that they’re peripheral.
So take a hard look at your own family.
Are there ways you could be including and empowering your daughters that you’re missing? Make intentional changes that let your daughters know that they’re not supporting characters in a man’s story.